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Comptroller: Suffolk in worse shape than Nassau

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Credit: Newsday, 2012 / Audrey C. Tiernan

Suffolk County was in worse financial shape than Nassau in 2012 but neither county is "out of the woods," state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Wednesday.

DiNapoli's review, released yesterday, placed Suffolk and the Village of Islandia among a dozen municipalities statewide that are under "significant fiscal stress." Nassau and Oyster Bay are among nine municipalities statewide with "moderate financial stress," the report said.

"The main point is that both counties have issues of financial stress," said DiNapoli, referring Nassau and Suffolk. "Neither county is out of the woods and have big issues to grapple with in the future."

DiNapoli, a Democrat, said he did not see the need for a financial control board for Suffolk, as Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is taking steps to deal with the county's fiscal woes. "I don't see any appetite among the powers for a proliferation of financial control boards," DiNapoli said.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board, has been in control of Nassau's finances since January 2011. NIFA said the county's 2011 budget contained a $176 million deficit -- more than seven times the 1 percent gap that triggers a takeover under state law.

Suffolk ran a $156 million deficit in 2012 and will spend about $100 million more than it collects in 2013.

DiNapoli gave Suffolk a 73.8 percent rating, compared with the 65 percent threshold for significant stress, while Nassau was at 62.5 percent, putting the county in the moderate stress range of 55 to 65 percent. Islandia was rated at 67.5 percent and Oyster Bay, 62.5 percent.

DiNapoli said his monitoring system aims to alert taxpayers to the fiscal condition of the state's more than 1,000 local governments based on 23 factors including deficits, spending, short-term debt and available cash.

The latest report on fiscal stress, an update of a June survey, added 88 governments including Nassau and Suffolk that had been "under review."

The rating system is based on 2012 financial figures.

Katie Grilli-Robles, a spokeswoman for Republican Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, questioned the motivation for the rating.

"Given the Comptroller's political endorsement of Tom Suozzi and [Democratic] party affiliation, we question the timing of this conveniently revised report," she said, referring to DiNapoli's endorsement of Democratic Nassau County executive candidate Thomas Suozzi.

DiNapoli spokesman Brian Butry said the report lists ratings for local governments across the state. He said politics played no role, and the timing of the report was the result of municipalities filing updated data at the end of August.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, emphasized that DiNapoli's report deals with the 2012 budget, which he inherited from Republican County Executive Steve Levy.

"The report validates what we've been arguing that Suffolk County is facing the greatest fiscal crisis in its history and our efforts to reform government and make it more efficient must continue," Bellone said.Bellone noted he has trimmed the county workforce by 1,000 positions, negotiated health insurance concessions and shut down the county nursing home.John Venditto, Oyster Bay Town supervisor, said "difficult economic times have taken their toll" on his town and others.

But he said spending cuts and a recent $30 million land sale have put Oyster Bay "comfortably on the road to fiscal stability."

Islandia Mayor Allan Dorman said the village "has always practiced fiscal responsibility by holding the line on taxes to protect its residents from further financial burden."

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