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Surprise: Cash-Strapped Albany Has A $6 Million Surplus

City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar addresses the media in city hall as Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan looks on.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar addresses the media in city hall as Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan looks on.

The city of Albany's financial picture looks sharper and brighter. Officials announced the numbers Thursday morning at City Hall.

For a municipality whose mayor had to essentially beg the state earlier this year for $12.5 million to shore up an unsteady 2017 budget, city hall says Albany is doing well. City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar says the city cut spending by $1.2 million while overall revenues rose to $9.6 million from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal 2016. And it now has a roughly $6 million budget surplus.  "Due to one-time events such as lower worker's comp costs, lower retirement costs, lower DGS costs from weather, but also some systemic changes from management, use of the ERP and timekeeping systems, which enabled the city to manage personnel costs better, city contracts and non-personnel costs better."

Shahinfar emphasized that without the $12.5 million in state aid, Albany would have had a deficit. He added that he is still looking for ways to increase revenues and cut costs while delivering services that are needed for a capital city.  Shahinfar says his 2017 1st Quarter report (below) shows a stable budget.

2017 Q1 Final via Scribd

Mayor Kathy Sheehan, a first-term Democrat whose opponents have criticized her handling of city finances, says the surplus money will be directed into a fund balance to be used for unforeseen expenses.   "We are not out of the woods. It is an expectation that the city of Albany have an addition to fund balance. That is what ratings agencies are looking for. That is what the state comptroller's office is looking for. And so, we aren't looking at this as a windfall by any stretch. This is funding that, again, we need to use to build back up our fund balance. The expectation of rating agencies is that they look for municipalities to have a fund balance that's equivalent to 10 percent of their operating budget. So this is a great signal, a move in the right direction, it's important that we continue to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, but this is again the result of a lot of hard work and a plan that was put in place and that we continue to execute on, and a demonstration that that plan is working."

Sheehan added she's looking to create "a workforce of the future" for city government.   "It's about shifting that skill set and working more efficiently and being able to be more efficient because we're willing to embrace technology.  When I became mayor we still had titles, and I think we're still cleaning it up, like 'clerk-typist,' right? 'Telephone operator.' [laughs]"

Sheehan noted some of the savings came from recommendations in the recently released PFM — Public Financial Management Group — report for the New York State Financial Restructuring Board .

In a related development, City Auditor Leif Engstrom has issued a response of his own, saying “The PFM Report should not be relied upon to conclude that the $12.5 million payments from the state are either unnecessary or unfair. In fact, the payments are both fair and needed.”  Here's a look at Engstrom's document:

Albany Auditor Responds to PFM Report on City Finances via Scribd

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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