Comptroller finds local towns not stressed fiscally

B y Jaime Thomas

Area towns scored well on a recent fiscal stress test conducted by the New York State Comptroller’s Office.

None of the towns in Washington County were found to be susceptible to stress, with most scoring well below the threshold.

Hartford came in with what Town Supervisor Dana Haff described as a “very impressive” low score of 3.3 percent; Granville was rated at 12.5 percent. In order to even receive a designation, a town would have to be rated at 45 percent or higher.

“Three towns in the county got 3.3 percent—Salem, Hebron and Hartford, which really is very, very low,” Haff said.

The comptroller gave towns up to two ratings: fiscal stress and environmental stress.

The financial indicators evaluated the ability of local governments to generate enough revenues to meet expenditures, using calculations in five categories: year end fund balance, operating deficits, cash position, use of short-term debt and fixed costs.

“They’re looking at it correctly—they look at the fund balance, tax levy, what you could afford. If you have too much money in the fund balance, the comptroller would criticize that, too,” Haff said.

The environmental indicators focused on factors that are largely outside a municipality’s control, but which have a bearing on its revenue raising capabilities, as well as its demand for and mix of services, according to osc.state.ny.us. This rating was based on calculations in the categories of population, age, poverty, property values, employment base, intergovernmental revenues, constitutional tax limit and sales tax revenue.

Haff explained that a town should score closely in both sections.

“The environmental score goes up if you have an aging population with not many people working. If you have a low environmental score, with a young population and a lot of people in the work force, you should have a low fiscal score,” he said.

Matt Hicks, Granville town supervisor, said Granville is sitting where it should be financially.

“I think the previous supervisors have worked a really tight ship and kept the budget low. I think we’re in pretty good shape fiscally,” Hicks said, adding that the state wanted to judge where municipalities were fiscally because of the 2 percent tax cap.

Other nearby towns scored low as well below the stress cap as well, with Whitehall and Easton coming in at 12.5 , Fort Ann at 17.5, Argyle at 19.2, Cambridge at 12.9, Kingsbury at 16.3 and Jackson at 15.8 percent. Greenwich, at 22.5 and Hampton, at 28.8 percent were the only towns within the county that came close to receiving a designation.

White Creek, Dresden and Fort Edward did not file reports. As for the counties as a whole, Washington County fared well with a 12.9 percent score while neighboring Warren County came in at 25.4 percent.

Haff found the results to be accurate. During his first year in office four years ago, he lowered the tax levy by 15 percent and has since raised the levy in only incremental amounts. He indicated those factors, combined with a healthy fund balance and fiscally responsible plan for the future, played into the town’s low score.

“It’s a third party’s indication that fiscally the town of Hartford is doing alright,” he said.

The list, which will later monitor villages and school districts, initially rated municipalities whose fiscal year ended in December of 2012.

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