Moody's: Sandy damage compounds Rockland's fiscal woes

A view of damaged boats at Parelli Park

A view of damaged boats at Parelli Park in Piermont, a town hit especially hard by flooding and downed trees during superstorm Sandy. U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) spent Monday afternoon surveying the damage and speaking with residents and small-business owners about how they planned to recover with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (Nov. 12, 2012) Photo Credit: Elizabeth Daza

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The good news: Rockland County avoided another bond rating downgrade by Moody's Investors Service.

The bad news: Rockland remains the lowest-rated county in the state, it's growing increasingly reliant on borrowing cash to keep afloat, and damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy is compounding the county's financial troubles.

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Those were the highlights and low points of the latest report on Rockland County's fiscal health by Moody's Investors Service, the New York City-based bond rating firm.

The report reaffirmed Rockland's Baa3 rating, the lowest of 10 investment-grade ratings assigned by the firm. A Baa3 rating is commonly described as one level above junk.

Rockland County leaders still face a sizable challenge with this year's $18 million budget gap, and while the Moody's report says county lawmakers have taken a "proactive approach to closing the current year budget gap," it also notes a series of setbacks. Among them: The state shot down the county's plans to introduce new taxes to boost revenue, and Rockland leaders haven't figured out how to offset losses from a county-owned nursing home.

To improve the county's bond rating, lawmakers must address those problems, seal this year's budget gap, and demonstrate a viable plan to deal with anticipated budget gaps in the next few years, according to Moody's.

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The rating is important as the county plans to issue revenue-anticipation bonds in coming months to bridge the deficit. The county already has seen its interest rates double in the past year as a result of the downgrades.

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