Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano’s assertion this week of a $45 million surplus for 2015 merits clarification.
First up, there is no surplus.
Not in the traditional sense that revenue was greater than expenses in the county last year — which is supposed to happen under generally accepted accounting principles.
Instead, for Mangano, the calculation went roughly like this:
Plus almost $150 million in borrowing previously cited by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county’s fiscal control board.
Equals a surplus.
In short, eliminate the borrowing — albeit at levels lower than in past years — and it looks like Nassau may have ended 2015 some $100 million in the red.
And Nassau isn’t the only county grappling with finance problems, as a quick look east shows. This week, Moody’s Investors Service revised its outlook on Suffolk County’s finances from stable to negative because of ongoing short-term borrowing and one-shot revenues to deal with cash flow problems and the county’s own structural deficit.
Which — combined with this week’s reports of slower than anticipated sales tax revenue in Nassau and in Suffolk — amounts to two troubled counties.
So far at least, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, unlike Mangano — who announced Nassau’s surplus during a news conference — isn’t trumpeting similar good news.
In an interview on Friday, Mangano defended the finding of a $45 million surplus.
But he acknowledged that the county would continue to need to borrow, likely through 2018, when Nassau hopes to balance its budget sans significant borrowing for items that should be funded out of pocket as operating expenses.
Or, as a report the county sent to NIFA this week said: “The County acknowledges that it continues to project a deficit by NIFA’s standards, which excludes other financing sources, in each year until 2018. The NIFA control period will likely need to extend through that time, as the County plans to use transitional borrowing to substantially fund tax certiorari refunds and extraordinary judgments and settlements.”
Even with the need for continued borrowing, Mangano said, the county is working to get more savings and secure more revenue. Which will become essential this budget year, since significant 2015 revenue sources were one-shots — that is, revenue unlikely to reoccur.
One permanent — and, frankly, troublesome — savings in 2015 was Nassau’s elimination of its annual subsidy to Nassau University Medical Center, a $13 million payment that fell to the county’s hungry bottom line.
George Maragos, Nassau’s comptroller, has yet to close last year’s books. And the county’s report to NIFA went largely unanswered this week — because Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has yet to appoint a replacement for former chairman Jon Kaiman, who stepped down to run for Congress.
“The staffs are continuing to talk to each other and work together,” Mangano said. “We will have to wait and see which direction a new chairman will take.”
One thing seems certain, however, at least through 2018.
NIFA — like the county’s deficits — isn’t going away anytime soon.