Following news that Moody’s Investors Service had downgraded Rockland County’s credit rating, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told The Journal News Editorial Board that he has been considering whether to recommend a “standardized statutory framework” for identifying and assisting municipalities that are under fiscal stress.
The framework “would identify triggers or early warnings of when a county or a city may be on the verge of a level of fiscal stress that should require some kind of state intervention in terms of some kind of an oversight board,” he said.
Many municipalities in the state are in a position of fiscal stress, and the number will grow, DiNapoli said. In the case of Rockland, some of the problems have to do with the state and national economy “and some of it has to do with local decisions made over a long period of time,” he said.
“We did a review of the county’s fiscal condition and basically pointed out what we determined to be a history of poor budgeting practices that has left Rockland in a vulnerable position,” he said.
The practice in New York has been to take each case on its own and pass a state law for an oversight authority, DiNapoli said. The state has set up oversight boards for Erie and Nassau counties.
“I think the fact that we now see Rockland, still obviously in a very difficult situation, Suffolk now as well, cities like Newburgh, certainly we hear the warnings coming from the mayors of Rochester and Syracuse, obviously as we navigate to the future, we’re going to see more and more of our municipalities facing significant stress,” DiNapoli said.
A framework for oversight would have to be approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, he noted.
“You have a lot of moving parts here relating to the economy … and then, again, you’ve got municipalities that during the good times were not necessarily doing the best in terms of budget practices, not, and Rockland certainly falls into this category, not building up reserves during good times to be prepared for a downturn,” he said.