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Troy's Finances "Dire," Depending On Who You Ask

Troy is making an effort to become more transparent as it gets a handle on its financial crisis.

On Wednesday, Troy Mayor Patrick Madden released the city’s first quarter financial report, prepared by the City Comptroller's office, detailing the first three months of the fiscal year. The report was issued in response to an audit by state comptroller Tom DiNapoli earlier this year, in a bid to be more transparent about Troy's fiscal picture. Madden calls it "another step in the right direction toward addressing the city's financial problems."

A response came Thursday from Republicans on the city council. City Council President Carmella Mantello called a press conference to announce the results of an independent audit of Troy’s finances, replete with a laundry-list of problems, deficiencies and recommendations.    "The New York State Comptroller was highly critical of the city's past administration and the past city council. As required under state law, the city council is charged to author a corrective action plan."

The council had 90 days to come up with a response to DiNapoli’s report that would outline the plan.

Mantello then introduced James Cusack and Ken Claflin of Cusack & Company, LLC, who presented their findings of a three-month audit that had just been completed that morning.  Clafin explained the task was to take the financial information and make it readable for a non-accountant. He says in the past four years the city lost about $5.3 million.    "The general fund unrestricted fund balance as of December 31st has a $92,000 deficit. The fund balance, being in a deficit position, makes us basically insolvent."

Remedies suggested included increasing water rates, sharing services with other governments and a property tax rate hike that could go as high as 20 percent, although Mantello admitted that wasn't likely to happen.

Minutes later, Madden held a news conference of his own, explaining he wasn't able to comment on the audit because he hadn't yet seen it. He dismissed Mantellos's notion that the city was in dire straits, choosing to apply the word "concerning" as a more fitting description. Madden pledged to "keep everything on the table" and said he welcomes all input with regard to helping Troy regain solid financial footing.  The mayor added that he was not involved in the process of hiring an auditor, nor was he given the opportunity to help compile recommendations to right the fiscal ship.

The city council held a special meeting Thursday night and, following a public comment period, voted unanimously to accept and send the Cusack audit and plan to the state comptroller.  A day later, Mantello wasn’t retreating from labeling the situation "dire."   "The city council is taking the bull by the horns, and we are going to work with mayor to address this dire financial picture that the independent auditor has presented to us. The independent audit shows that the city of Troy is facing a $3.9 million deficit, and that's without any emergencies or contingencies and the independent auditor also recommended a number of proposals, recommendations, such as a freeze on hiring. Control overtime. $3.2 million last year. That's unacceptable. And pretty much to change the way business has been being done in city hall for the past four or five years."

Meantime, Madden has had an opportunity to review the report.   "It more or less reiterates what was contained in the state comptroller report that we received in February, doesn't include any new analysis. It also misinterprets parts of our 2015 annual update that we submitted to the state, and that's a bit concerning to me. The suggestions that it includes, they're not actionable proposals. There's no analysis for example of the operational impact of a freeze on hiring or a cutting of seven percent in salaries and benefits across the board. Those sort of unexplored, unexamined practices are part of what got us into this situation in the first place."

Madden regrets his office was excluded from the audit process...  "I think we could have contributed in a way that would have resulted in a more useful product."

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Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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