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Report: Southold, Greenport Village on solid financial ground

09/29/2015 9:00 AM |

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Many governments and school district across New York State are struggling with a lack of reserves and rising financial uncertainty, according to the New York State Comptroller’s Office.

But Southold Town and Greenport Village are not among them.

A report detailing fiscal conditions for municipalities state-wide shows both Southold and Greenport are in solid financial state, with indicators showing the town and village aren’t in financial trouble.

“There’s not a lot of secrets to it,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell. “We do go literally over the budget line by line, dollar by dollar … We don’t spend money we don’t have and we don’t spend money we do have.”

The report is based on “financial indicators making up what we deem to be the best gauge of a municipality’s fiscal health,” with towns earning points for poor fiscal policy, Mr. Butry said. The report lags behind one fiscal year, so the most recent 2015 report released last week reflects data from the 2014 fiscal year.

Both Southold and Greenport have “fiscal stress” scores below 7 percent; the Comptroller’s Office states municipalities with scores around 45 percent are “susceptible” to stress.

Other municipalities are struggling within the constraints of the tax levy cap, which limits how much municipalities can increase what they collect in taxes. Some, like Riverhead Town, have been burning through their reserves to cover budget gaps.

“Most municipalities are walking a fine line with their reserve,” said Brian Butry, a spokesperson for Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

But Southold Town has “very healthy” reserves of cash set aside.

“That’s what you want to see,” Mr. Butry said.

Southold Town did post a $93,000 deficit in its 2014 budget, but Supervisor Scott Russell said the shortfall was due to the walloping of snow the North Fork took that winter, which forced Southold Town to pay extra overtime for highway workers.

“When you have storm like that … you’d be surprised to know how much salt costs us,” Mr. Russell added. Mr. Butry said the deficit appears to be a “one-off” event.

Mr. Russell said the Town saved money by taking a hard-line stance with unions who worked with the town to cut down on costs. The town has also managed to stay under the state’s tax levy cap, which limits how much municipalities can increase what they collect in taxes.

That fiscal stability is what helped entice Moody’s to upgrade the town’s bonds to Aa1 rating, the second-highest possible designation.

The tax cap hasn’t completely stopped upgrades to the town’s infrastructure, but it has slowed the Town Board’s ability to raise money, he said.

“We need a new Town Hall. The police department is very old and outdated, but to build these things you rely on bonds and those lead to debt service which become a fixed part of your budget,” Mr. Russell said.

Town Comptroller John Cushman credited the Town Board and Mr. Russell for being “responsible.”

“Some of these other towns want to play games,” Mr. Cushman said. “The Town Board is responsible when they come up with a budget … It’s called leadership. Moody’s picked up on that when they upgraded our bonds.”

In Greenport Village’s report, the state identified an abundance of reserves as something that could be addressed, but otherwise saw little issue with the village’s financial situation.

Greenport Mayor George Hubbard said the village has taken steps this year to spend some of that extra reserves on road repairs.

In total, the Village has spent about $600,000 of its remaining reserves on the two infrastructure projects.

“Using the money you have makes your rating better,” Mr. Hubbard said.

Local school districts also fared well under the Comptroller’s latest rating, with all North Fork districts staying within the state’s recommendations for acceptable fiscal stress.

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Photo Credit: Tetsumo, flickr

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