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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Oyster Bay again escapes ‘fiscal distress’ list

While New York State's comptroller has issued a

While New York State's comptroller has issued a "fiscal distress" list that includes a number of Long Island municipalities, Oyster Bay has somehow avoided being in that crowd. March 27, 2016. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Something seemed a tad strange with a report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli last week that included a list of Long Island communities under fiscal stress.

The list, compiled from the controller’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System, included Nassau and Suffolk counties — no surprise, given that both counties always seem to be grappling with deficits — and the cities of Glen Cove and Long Beach, along with 10 other municipalities.

But where, oh where, was Oyster Bay? With two Wall Street bond rating agencies assigning rankings of junk and near junk status to the town’s debt, shouldn’t the town meet the fiscal stress test?

A query to the comptroller’s office turned up the answer.

Oyster Bay wasn’t included in this year’s report because the town has yet to turn over completed 2016 financial information to the controller’s office, a state spokesman said.

It’s the only town on Long Island that has failed to do so.

And get this: Although Oyster Bay handed over the required material on time the year the controller’s office launched its monitoring program, for the second and third years, Oyster Bay didn’t file on time, even as it faced a series of financial calamities.

The reporting failures meant that Oyster Bay was not included in the controller’s analysis, which scores municipalities across the state based on nine financial metrics, including fund balance, cash on hand and patterns of operating deficits. The report also looks at each municipality’s population trends and poverty and unemployment levels to add real-world operating conditions.

Oyster Bay likely avoided being tagged last week, when the most recent report was released, as one of Long Island’s financially distressed communities — during this, an election year, in which five candidates are vying for the supervisor job.

Rob Darienzo, the town’s director of finance, on Monday blamed glitches in accounting software that the town began using in 2014 for all three years of late reports.

Those issues, he said, made Oyster Bay’s own 2014 audit 10 months late and its 2015 audit five months late — which, like cascading dominoes, also delayed Oyster Bay’s required reports to the state comptroller.

The town concentrated on finishing its 2016 audit on time this year, he said, and as a result didn’t complete and submit financial information for the state until September.

“It’s been a dark period, but that period is behind us,” said Darienzo, who has headed the finance department under former Supervisor John Venditto and Supervisor Joseph Saladino — who was appointed to the job after Venditto, who is fighting federal corruption charges, resigned.

Brian Butry, a DiNapoli spokesman, said that late reports are as good as no reports at all — since the office can’t go back, redo its analysis and rescore municipalities included in the report.

That shouldn’t happen with Oyster Bay’s 2017 financial information — which Darienzo expects to be submitted to the controller’s office on time, in April 2018.

That’s four months after the close of the town’s 2017 budget year — and five months after November’s elections.

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