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NYS comptroller designates villages of Saugerties, Coxsackie under fiscal stress

Coxsackie Village Hall
WAMC
Coxsackie Village Hall

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has released a list of New York villages designated as under fiscal stress. Two communities in the Hudson Valley are on the list.

DiNapoli, a Democrat, says six villages were designated as under fiscal stress.

According to the report shared by the comptroller’s office on Wednesday, the Village of Saugerties in Ulster County is the only community on the list under “significant” financial stress.

Four communities were listed as “susceptible to fiscal stress,” including Chateauguay in Franklin County and Whitehall in Washington County.

Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the comptroller, told WAMC the office’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System takes into account a number of factors.

“Their fund balance, whether they have operating deficits, if they’re relying on short-term cashflow to pay bills, or if they have a high amount of debt service,” said Johnson.

But some community leaders are pushing back on the designation.

Saugerties Mayor Bill Murphy questioned the classification and said his staff contacted the comptroller’s office Thursday morning for clarification.

“So, I’m just curious as to the calculations that went into that number. They say we scored 85. I’d like to see how they got there.”

The comptroller’s office says local governments are required to file an Annual Financial Report at the close of their fiscal year. The office says 106 local governments did not file in time to receive a fiscal stress score.

The office says the Village of Saugerties did not file in time to be scored in 2022, and that in 2021 was “just under the threshold to receive a stress designation.”

Again, Mayor Murphy…

“Here’s the real take from me. I’ve been doing this 15 years, and in 15 years, this village has never raised taxes,” said Murphy. “And matter of fact, up until this year, we have lowered the tax rate every year for 15-strait-years, the tax rate has gotten lower. Part of that is because our revenues have been up, and partly because I’ve tried to offset increase in assessments, because the property value is going up around here. I could have very easily kept our tax rate flat rate all those years and had this village sitting with a huge fund balance, but I don’t believe in that. I believe the money should be in the pockets of our residents.”

The Village of Coxsackie in Greene County is classified as under “moderate” stress.

Mayor Mark Evans dismissed the classification.

“We know every small aspect of our budgets at a local level, on small town or a small village. What would really make it more substantially believable is if the state decide to follow it too,” said Evans.

As village governments begin their budgeting process, the state legislature on Thursday passed a motion to delay budget negotiations with Governor Kathy Hochul past the April 1st state budget deadline, with talks set to resume on April 4th.

Evans said the comptroller’s fiscal stress assessment takes into account factors that are beyond the control of local government.

“If you really look at the criteria that they use in detail – you gotta look at the detail – there’s a lot of criteria in there that you don’t have any control over,” said Evans. “Like housing costs and other factors in there that…a village board doesn’t have any control over, it can’t control.”

Comptroller spokesman Johnson encourages local governments to use a self-assessment tool on the office’s website to “head-off fiscal stress problems.”

“We’re in contact with the entities on a regular basis and we’ve reached out to many, many of them to encourage them to use the tool and also to make sure they file their information with us as is statutorily required,” said Johnson.

The comptroller’s office this week also issued audits of villages and school districts, and released a report finding a growing role for county governments in funding EMS services.

 

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.