Written by George Maragos Friday, 04 January 2013 00:00
The adopted $2.8 billion Nassau County budget for fiscal year 2013 represents a 0.2 percent decrease in spending compared to the 2012 budget. For the third consecutive year, the budget holds the line on property taxes with no increase.
The budget is fiscally conservative containing only $60.1 million of revenue and expenditure items considered as having risk. This is the lowest amount of budgetary risk in over four years. The $60.1 million at risk is comprised of $39.1 million in possible lower revenues and $21 million in possible higher expense. This level of risk is about 2 percent of the total budget and should be manageable.
Using Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) as defined by the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), the projected risk is $125.1 million. However, the NIFA GAAP risk still represents an 11 percent improvement over 2012 and a 32 percent improvement from 2009. The distinction between the risk as presented under the budgetary basis and the NIFA GAAP basis is attributable to the different treatment of certain revenues and expenses. NIFA GAAP excludes certain income from investments, bond premiums and bond proceeds used to pay expenditures.
The adopted 2013 budget continues the improving fiscal trends established over the last three years by:
• Reducing the Structural Gap to less than $35 million, an 86 percent improvement from the peak in 2009 of $252 million;
• Controlling spending to just 1.3 percent over recurring revenues, the lowest margin since 2004;
• Reducing borrowing to $140 million, approximately 44 percent lower than the average annual borrowing over the prior 5 years, primarily for capital project investments.
The principal budgetary challenges facing the county are its low fund balance, which stood at $40.5 million at the end of 2011, the continuing skyrocketing pension contributions, and the unrelenting increases in state and federal mandated costs. At the same time, the county revenues are essentially flat due to the weak economy. The rating agencies have noted these challenges, evidenced by a Moody’s downgrade in October. The administration, NIFA and the legislature need to work together to address these growing challenges in 2013 and beyond.