Nassau ended last year with a $58.2 million budget surplus, primarily due to borrowing to pay property tax refunds and police termination costs, County Comptroller George Maragos reported Monday.
Although the cash surplus provides an operating cushion, Nassau still has a gap between recurring expenses and revenues of $141.9 million, Maragos said. Nassau’s financial control board, which doesn’t count borrowing as revenues, would calculate a $105.3 million deficit for last year, he added.
Maragos said the surplus was “primarily due” to $122.3 million in borrowing to pay for operating expenses including property tax refunds and a portion of police termination pay.
His numbers still must be confirmed by the county’s outside auditors this summer.
“The apparent positive year-end results mask continuing weakness in the county’s fiscal fundamentals ... ,” Maragos said a news release. “The use of borrowing to fund county’s operations and boost reserves cannot be condoned.”
County Executive Edward Mangano said Monday, “I take issue” with Maragos’ report. Mangano said he borrowed only the amount budgeted to be borrowed last year, despite a $70 million deficit in expected sales tax revenues.
Mangano said he paid for a Civil Service Employees Association retirement incentive program through operating funds as well as litigation costs, which usually are financed through borrowing.
“We have a $58 million budget surplus because of good management throughout the year that addressed a sales tax shortfall and still ended the year in budgetary surplus. We didn’t borrow any more money to get there,” Mangano said.
He said the county’s fund balance, which can be used in fiscal emergencies, is $164 million, about $100 million more than when he took office in 2010.
Chris Wright, a member of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state board that pegged the county’s budget deficit at $176 million when it took control of the county’s finances in 2011, said, “Since borrowing still isn’t revenue, it appears the county has a long way to go toward balancing its budget.”
Wright added, “deficits of that size are what happens when the county approves, with NIFA acquiescence, spending for which there isn’t sufficient revenue.”
In his news release, Maragos noted that the county deferred another $37.8 million in pension payments last year, bringing the total owed to the state retirement system to $221.1 million.
Maragos also estimated the commercial tax refund backlog at $316.4 million. He estimated the county’s potential liability for decades-old erroneous utility taxes at another $385 million.
The amount would drop by about $40 million if the county legislature approves a proposed settlement with Oyster Bay related to town garbage district taxes.