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Oyster Bay changes borrowing procedures to comply with laws

Robert Darienzo, Oyster Bay finance director, says the

Robert Darienzo, Oyster Bay finance director, says the town has changed how it repays short-term cash flow borrowing in order to avoid violating state law. Oct. 18, 2016 Credit: Howard Schnapp

Oyster Bay officials have changed how the town repays short-term cash-flow borrowing in order to avoid violating state law, town officials said.

Last month the town reported in an audited financial statement that in 2015 it repaid $19 million in tax anticipation notes with the wrong funds, in violation of state local finance law.

“As stated in the audit, it’s a violation of this section of the law, we don’t dispute it,” Town Finance Director Robert Darienzo said. “We’ve taken steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Taxes collected that year that were supposed to repay the notes were instead used for town operating expenses, according to the financial statement. Darienzo said the town repaid the debt when it was due in 2016. Darienzo did not provide details on what the town has changed, but said that improved revenue in the future will eliminate cash-flow problems.

Oyster Bay’s newly appointed town supervisor, Joseph Saladino, has taken the reins of a town that is struggling to dig itself out of a fiscal mess. He has pledged to save money and reduce debt, but has not announced any specific proposals. Last week he replaced John Venditto, who resigned in January and is due in court Wednesday on federal corruption charges.

When a municipality borrows for short-term cash to finance operations before tax revenues are collected, known as tax anticipation notes, the state generally requires it to repay investors with taxes collected in that fiscal year.

The town also reported last month that $8 million it had borrowed for capital purposes was instead used for operating expenses at the end of 2015.

Municipal finance experts said the town’s past practices are signs of fiscal distress and poor financial management, but by themselves don’t trigger penalties.

The misuse of capital funds was noticed by outside accountants for the town in September, nine months after the money had been used, but after the funds had been repaid, Darienzo said.

“A large part of the problem was our accounting software not producing reports that could give us solid information at the end of 2015,” he said.

Town officials have said that the transition in 2014 to new accounting software caused many problems that have since been fixed. Darienzo said the town had a cash-flow problem in part because Nassau County was late in paying sales and mortgage taxes.

Darienzo also said that the town has been combining funds while state law requires that municipalities deposit bond and bond anticipation note proceeds into special accounts and use them only for the purpose for which they were borrowed.

Darienzo said the town doesn’t segregate the funds into different bank accounts.

“We don’t have a bank account for operating money, a bank account for capital money,” he said. “Our bank accounts combined contain all of our money combined.”

Albany Law School professor Christine Chung, who specializes in financial market regulation, said combining funds can create reporting problems.

“If you don’t segregate them and you don’t use them for their stated purpose, that’s how you can find yourself in violation” of municipal finance law, she said, citing a 1981 opinion by the state comptroller’s office that said that the law required segregated bank accounts.

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