St. Lawrence County, coping with cash flow difficulties and a sharp decline in surplus funds, is “walking a financial tightrope,” according to state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
An audit of the county’s finances notes that the county’s weakening fiscal health has resulted in program cuts, tax increases and a potential operating deficit.
“St. Lawrence County is walking a financial tightrope,” said DiNapoli. “Recent budget decisions may leave the county without sufficient cash available for managing unforeseen events or closing budget shortfalls. Before the county gets in a financial bind, officials should develop a comprehensive long-range financial plan that will help identify operational and capital needs, monitor revenue and expenditure trends, and develop new financing sources.”
Auditors expressed concern that the county’s reserves have been diminished significantly between 2007 and 2011, from $11 million to $1.7 million, as it struggled to maintain operations.
“County officials relied heavily on the county’s unexpended surplus funds, the portion of fund balance that is not reserved for another purpose and available for use in future budgets, to close budget gaps and keep their tax rate stable. As a result, unexpended surplus funds declined from $11 million in 2007 to a deficit of $1.7 million at the end of 2011,” the auditors said.
In 2012, “county officials included an appropriation of nearly $4 million in the 2012 budget from unexpended surplus funds, which was more than it had available. As a result, based on the county’s preliminary close out numbers for the 2012 fiscal year, the county had a potential operating deficit of $3.6 million.”
No immediate comment was available from the county administrator’s office or from the office of the county treasurer, who are both out of the office today.