BY MICHAEL RICONDA
NEW CITY – An annual report issued by the office of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Wednesday carried good news for the county, which improved its score almost 20 percent from 2013 to 2014.
The test employs a percentage system as a metric for stress, with 100 percent representing the highest level of fiscal danger. Measures are based largely on fund balances, the operating deficit, debt issuance and ratios of specific expenditures like debt service and employee benefits to overall revenues. Environmental factors such as resident demographics, sales tax revenue, property values, and population are also taken into account.
Overall, Rockland dropped to 65.8 percent in 2014, a significant difference from 86.7 percent in 2013. Most of the drop was traced directly to fund balances, which dropped a combined 13.5 percent from 2013’s 50 percent score.
The other eight variables measured in the report saw lower scores as well. As a result, Rockland fell well behind Monroe County’s persistent 82.1 percent score an is no longer the most fiscally-stressed local government in New York.
County Executive Ed Day attributed the improvement to cost-cutting efforts, departmental reorganization and a recent credit upgrade by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. “During the past 21 months, my administration has worked hard to overcome significant operational challenges and re-establish financial stability,” Day stated in a press release. “We continue to reduce costs through consolidation and efficiency and rebuild our fund balance, while continuing to provide the critical services local residents rely on.”
County Legislative Chairman Alden Wolfe was similarly optimistic about the report, agreeing the county’s approach to budgeting and its efforts to shrink the deficit had worked in its favor.
“I’m pleased that the comptroller has recognized the significant progress the county has made in putting itself back on strong fiscal footing,” Wolfe stated. “This is the result of years of hard work and tough decisions, including obtaining deficit financing and embracing a conservative approach to budgeting.”
The scorecards were introduced as a fiscal barometer for fiscally-strained counties in 2013, with scores above 65 percent indicative of serious fiscal stress. Hence, Rockland is one percent away from a reclassification from serious to moderate fiscal stress.
About 1,000 counties were included in this year’s round of report cards, with 15 scoring in the same bracket as Rockland.