However, County Comptroller Jack Schnirman took a cautiously optimistic note when he unveiled the state-mandated Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) on the county’s fiscal condition.
Schnirman made his presentation at Molloy College’s William J. Casey Center on July 2, highlighting two essential figures. As of Dec. 31, 2018 (the end of the fiscal year), the deficit in the primary operating funds fell from negative $122.4 million in fiscal year 2017 to negative $27.5 million, a positive change of $94.9 million.
“I think it’s fair to say that that is a significant improvement,” Schnirman observed. “We still have a long way to go. We’re still in a deficit situation and we’ll be watching to see if those numbers are sustainable or not.”
Another good trend was in the county’s unassigned fund balance or rainy day fund. It improved from negative $68.8 million in 2017 to negative $22 million in 2018.
Schnirman tied this figure to an improved financial situation, adding, “Our biggest revenue as a county is sales tax. It grew by 3.7 percent or $43.1 million (from $1.151.4 billion to $1.194.5 billion).”
Other factors included, according to a press release:
• Personnel spending, excluding fringe benefits, came in $60 million under what was spent in 2017, and $23.3 million under the adopted budget. Spending on personnel is the county’s single largest expense.
• Paying off $38.6 million worth of backlog tax certiorari payments through a financing plan.
• A $10.4 million increase in public safety fee revenues.
• A $9.5 million increase in PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) revenues due in part to an audit from the comptroller’s office that recovered more than $5 million in missing payments owed to the county.
The comptroller also touted that his office is finally taking a consistent approach to the financial numbers, using generally accepted accounting principles.
“[These are] numbers that you can compare year-over-year, and that is so important to the role of comptroller—to be independent and the county’s fiscal umpire,” Schnirman stated. “For years, folks had chosen to talk about different ways of describing county finances—and that’s confusing.”
“The numbers show Nassau County is moving in the right direction, but there is a long way to go,” Schnirman said. “We’re still in a deficit position. We will be monitoring the situation closely to see if this progress is sustainable.”
He added, “We’re happy to report this year that we see in the audit no new material weaknesses and no significant deficiencies, which is a good sign in terms of our financials.”
Among the large potential expenses cited in the CAFR are the county’s total tax certiorari liabilities ($604.6 million) and litigation liabilities ($414.8 million), both of which saw increases.
The report also noted that the external auditors “cited Nassau’s outdated financial system and decentralized operations as serious concerns.”
“In 2019, we have taken the first steps to update our outdated systems so that financial reports can be produced in an efficient manner,” Schnirman said in a statement.