City still carries ‘moderate’ stress
The Office of the State Comptroller released an annual report Wednesday denoting the levels of fiscal stress felt by municipalities throughout the state, two of which are located in Oswego County.
The report, which is based on the 2014 fiscal year, takes into account an end of the year report submitted by municipalities to the comptroller’s office and considers environmental factors as well as financial ones, such as major population demographics and government spending.
Those factors are assigned point values by the comptroller’s office, with “significant” fiscal stress, the most serious rating, reflecting a score of 65 percent or more of those points, and “moderate” fiscal stress reflecting 55 percent to 64.9 percent.
If a municipality appears to be headed towards fiscal stress, earning a score between 45 percent and 54.9 percent, it is rated as “susceptible to fiscal stress.”
The financial indicators include a municipality’s year-end fund balance, cash position, operating deficits and use of short-term debt to determine how stressed a municipality is. The environmental factors account for areas such as the population size, its age, poverty levels and sales tax revenue.
The more points accrued by a municipality, the more severe their fiscal stress, according to DiNapoli’s report.
According to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the city of Fulton is considered to be in “moderate fiscal stress,” while the town of Parish is considered to be experiencing “significant fiscal stress.”
Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward said the city had been on DiNapoli’s list since 2013, which accounted for the 2012 fiscal year, and that the primary reason for the stress was the lack of industry in the city.
Fulton scored 57.5 percent of all possible points for the 2014 fiscal year, stemming primarily from a low unassigned fund balance of $123,389. Woodward pointed to the closure of both the Nestle and Birds Eye plants as causes for the city’s prolonged rating.
“When Nestle left so did its $22 million payroll,” Woodward said, saying the city’s residents struggled to make up for the absence.
He also pointed to cost-cutting tactics employed on the city’s end to try and combat the issue and lower spending by changing full-time positions to part-time ones and combining others. He described the staff as “bare bones.”
Fulton’s score is actually down from the previous year’s, which came in at 64.2 percent, though Woodward was unable to point to any specific cause.
Fulton Common Council President Larry Macner also pointed to the absence of industry, and specifically high-paying jobs, as a major factor in the rating.
“We need more higher paying jobs. Fast food (jobs are) nice but we need industries like we used to have so people could be able to afford more, but industry’s are leaving all over,” Macner said.
He pointed to the recent news of the possible closure of the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant as another example, saying it “would be terrible” if the plant were to actually close.
The decision regarding its fate is to be made by the end of the year; the plant currently employs more than 600 people.
Macner also placed blame on New York state’s government for not releasing more aid to the city, as well as holding out on funds intended to help with the demolition of the old Nestle plant to make way for new businesses.
“There’s been a lack of action on the government’s part,” he said.
The town of Parish also made it into the report, though the town is rated as experiencing a significant level of fiscal stress, which is the most serious designation.
According to data available on the comptroller’s website, the town of Parish earned 69.2 percent of all possible points, up 15 percentage points from the previous year’s rating of 54.2 percent.
The data points to a low fund balance as well as a high amount of short term debt — $240,000 — which is nearly half of the town’s $470,475 in revenue.
Town officials were unable to be reached for comment by press-time.