Managing Other People’s Money

In Columns by Hal PetersonLeave a Comment

Both New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran recently released two divergent comments that require, in my opinion, further examination to judge, whether or not, fiduicary responsibilities and applicable accounting standards, are being met for the common good.    

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reports Nassau County is under “significant fiscal stress” based on year-end general fund balances, cash on hand, short-term borrowing, and operating deficits. His report, finds our county the 2nd most fiscally stressed in the state, with spending well in excess of probable revenues.   

Nassau County Executive Officer Laura Curran reports, in filing next year’s $3.11 billion operating budget, “We are maintaining spending discipline, while keeping all of our services and our current head count, we are very focused on fiscal discipline with the goal of not burdening the taxpayers further.

Two views, one predicting possible insolvency; the other, an authentic  spending plan. County Executive Curran, in preparing her budget, obviously gives no heed to the financial metrics frequently mentioned by DiNapoli. It is easy to understand why. She is not obligated to buy in on what he feels is necessary. If she did, she would be forced to find ways to run operations more efficiently, spend less and yes, even raise taxes and fees. Not stuff political careers are built on.      

By law, two other government entities also interact in judging the viability of the budget. The first, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) the second, our county legislature.   

NIFA, was created in June of 2000 when the county was on the verge of insolvency caused just about what we witness today. Last September, they approved Curran’s $3.075 billion dollar budget (and $100 million in bonding to pay outstanding property tax refund debt) considering it a “bare bones budget that reflects the county’s current financial position.” Wow!  So much, for their nineteen-year shot at managing other people’s money.     

Curran’s tentative budget also requires the approval of nineteen county legislators. Their decision should involve a detailed examination of projected revenues and expenditures, a 1.7 % property tax roll-back, new allowances to cover the cost of separation payments, a $6 million “rainy-day” fund, $85 million in debt refinanced to save $6 million, all while “looking at ways to be more efficient and more modern when we do business.”

In my opinion, with eleven Republican and eight Democrat legislators up for re-election, Curran’s multibillion-dollar budget will be approved, with only modest adjustments, despite the fact that new CSEA labor agreements are yet to be settled.  

In closing, I continue to question (within this maze of interaction) if the systemic problems evident in fiscally managing Nassau County will ever be corrected, short of some form of calamity. The words “significant fiscal stress” continue to ring true to me.       

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