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.

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.

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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