Mineola - Nassau County Comptroller Howard S. Weitzman has completed his analysis of the proposed fiscal year 2003 Budget and 2003-2006 multi-year financial plan that County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi presented to the Nassau County Legislature last month.
"We have carefully scrutinized the financial calculations and underlying assumptions contained within the September financial plan, much as we did with the earlier plan the county executive and his team produced in the spring," said Weitzman.
In a report issued by the comptroller's office today (Oct. 7), Weitzman notes that the proposed FY 03 Budget is the cornerstone of the financial plan, laying the foundation for the county's fiscal recovery. "Its assumptions are appropriately conservative in this uncertain economic climate. This will provide a cushion if economic conditions worsen," Weitzman maintains. "On the other hand, if the economy rebounds, Nassau County taxpayers will benefit from this prudent management strategy as the county will reap a surplus and move toward a structurally balanced budget."
Weitzman believes that the proposed budget for 2003 reflects an appropriate mix of spending cuts, workforce reductions and government re-engineering savings initiatives, coupled with an increase in the county's portion of the property tax.
According to Weitzman, "the proposed budget is balanced, and, indeed, could result in a surplus of between $11 million and $46 million depending on the performance of the stock - markets." He noted that if stock prices remain depressed at their current levels at the end of the state fiscal year, his office projects a surplus of $11 million for next year. Conversely, if the stock markets recover and investment losses in the New York State pension funds are limited to only 10 percent, the surplus in 2003 could be as high as $46 million. "In either event, this surplus would be a small percentage of the proposed FY 03 Budget; and we recommend that any such surplus resources be invested in information technology so as to foster increased efficiencies and productivity in government," said Weitzman.
In his report, the comptroller expresses concern, however, that the administration is offering a financial plan that assumes information technology will enhance productivity and generate cost savings, yet, paradoxically, it is not earmarking any funds towards investment in technology in 2003. "Modernization of the county's information technology must be given the highest priority," Weitzman maintains. "While the county has taken some steps toward e-government, with a sufficient initial investment the opportunities to generate efficiencies and cost savings would be immeasurable." He noted that some of the government re-engineering savings contained in the county executive's plan might be at risk if the requisite investment in technology is not forthcoming.
Although he considers the proposed 2003 budget to be prudent, Weitzman cautions that the numbers contained for the out-years of the multi-year financial plan are less certain and subject to external factors beyond the county's control.
"State legislation authorizing the creation of a sewer and storm water authority, along with a reasonable decision by the arbitration panel with respect to the contracts between the county and the police unions, would go a long way toward alleviating the need for major cuts in human services and in the cultural and recreational amenities that help attract and keep many families here in Nassau County," writes Weitzman. However, he acknowledges that such actions are by no means assured.
"We agree with the county executive that we all must share the financial burden resulting from the past administration's mistakes and that tough remedies are needed, especially in light of the current sluggish economic climate and increased costs of federal and state mandates that must be borne by the county," said Weitzman. "A weak economy - with its attendant impact on employment and consumer spending - and skyrocketing Medicaid, health-insurance and pension-plan-contribution costs have added to the serious financial challenges Nassau County already faces. These occurrences make meeting annual budgets, let alone multi-year financial plan targets, all the more difficult and will require taking some painful steps."
Noting that economic conditions have worsened since last fall, sales-tax revenues have declined, and unemployment among Nassau County's residents has risen above the four-percent mark, Weitzman said: "We must regain structural balance and, obviously, we should not and cannot rely on a rebounding economy alone to fix our underlying budget problems.
"We need to rethink our spending priorities and the means for funding them in order to put the county back on the right path toward a structurally balanced budget," he continued. "The financial plan's proposed adjustments in taxes and spending should help address some of our immediate financial concerns."
Click here to display the Comptroller's Testimony On The Budget And The Multi-Year Financial Plan For Fiscal Years 2003-2006 Presented Before the Finance Committee Of the Nassau County Legislature