2 leaders take issue with ‘fiscal stress’ list
A Mid-Hudson school official and town supervisor say a state Comptroller’s Office report on “fiscal stress” fails to take into account circumstances that can strain school and municipal budgets.
The report, based on 2015 financial statements and issued Tuesday, says that in the Mid-Hudson region, the village of Tannersville is under “significant” fiscal stress, the Rhinebeck and New Paltz school districts are under “moderate” fiscal stress, and the town of Rochester and village of Catskill are “susceptible” to fiscal stress.
Rhinebeck school district Assistant Superintendent Thomas Burnell said having the district
go from no fiscal stress in 2013-14 to moderate stress in 2014-15 requires an explanation that is not provided in Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s report.
“The reason for the fiscal stress ... in the 2014-15 school year is we had an exorbitant amount of special [education] costs that were not budgeted,” Burnell said.
Burnell said was only one special education student with large expenses when the budget was adopted, but by the beginning of the school year, there were nine students for whom the total cost was about $500,000.
“We had a big influx of students that came in after the budget was settled, so that was main reason we had fiscal stress that we had not had before,” Burnell said. “That one particular year did cause us to take a financial hit, and due to the tax cap
(the state limit on how much a school district’s property tax levy can be increased from one year to the next), it is hard to build back up funds anymore.”
DiNapoli said in the report that “challenges facing local governments across the state are real. Our monitoring system has shown that for those localities experiencing financial hardship, it can be difficult to overcome challenges that have been years in the making. Local officials should be carefully
examining their scores and using this system to determine how they can budget prudently and develop realistic long-term financial plans.” DiNapoli said the stress designations are based on fund balances, cash availability and the size of operating deficits in budgets.
Town of Rochester Supervisor Carl Chipman said the improvement of his town’s fiscal stress standing from “moderate” to “susceptible” is the result of work that began even before the “moderate”
designation was given.
“The list doesn’t tell the story, because it’s just numbers and they don’t show what’s really going on in a community,” Chipman said.
“We’re no longer using any unallocated fund balance toward the tax levy, although taxes haven’t gone up, and we’re showing greater constraints on the highway fund on spending,” he said.
The village of Saugerties and town of Marlborough were lister in the comptroller’s report as not having
filed financial statements with the state.
Saugerties Mayor William Murphy said the village was granted an extension due to a change of treasurers and that the paperwork was filed within the last week.
There was no immediate explanation for the lack of filing by Marlborough.