Comptroller reassures Otsego amid fiscal crisis

DiNapoli

 New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told the Otsego County Board of Representatives he believed the state’s delaying of the remainder of the 2021 budget could be viewed with a positive spin.

DiNapoli, a Long Island Democrat who has been comptroller since 2007, addressed the board at a special meeting Monday, June 15, held via the online Zoom platform because of the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting was broadcast on Facebook Live.

“All of us in government signed up to do the people’s business,” he said. “I don’t know if any of us anticipated what we’d be dealing with in the year 2020.”

DiNapoli told the board he isn’t in the state’s budget department, but he thinks the mindset in Albany is to hold off on slashing aid to counties in hopes of a federal spending package that includes municipal aid.

“So in the short term, in having a delay, that is better than a cut,” he said.

DiNapoli said Otsego’s sale tax revenue for May was down 32.4%, slightly higher than the state average.

“All of us know this has been a very rough time,” he said.

DiNapoli said Otsego is “well-represented at the state level,” singling out retiring state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, and mentioning his recovery from coronavirus.

DiNapoli said the state unemployment level is 14.5%, but it is just 12% in Otsego. He said the unemployment levels were 10 times higher than normal.

However, he said, there is good news, noting the state’s pension fund is 96% funded and in better shape than most state pensions. The downside is that by law, he had to do the annual evaluation on March 31, at the nadir of the market losses.

He said he is also impressed with how well New Yorkers have adapted during the pandemic.

“I do take some renewed optimism in knowing we’re New Yorkers. We’re tough,” DiNapoli said. “We’ve been through tough times before.”

DiNapoli said he is also optimistic about federal funds.

“I think there will be more aid coming from the federal government,” he said.

DiNapoli didn’t give the lawmakers the answers they wanted about finality from Albany, but they did thank him for his insight and honesty.

“I don’t know if some of us would agree with that,” County Treasurer Allen Ruffles said. “It’s better knowing what we were getting.”

“Plan for the worst, hope for the best is kind of what we have to do,” said Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom.

Still, DiNapoli left them with compliments.

“Your task is a very hard one, but we applaud what you do as local officials,” he said. “You are blessed with being one of the most beautiful counties in the entire state.”

In other business, the county’s Administration Committee also met Monday, June 15, via Zoom and broadcast on Facebook Live.

The committee heard reports from department heads about new cuts in the 2020 budget. One department head dubbed the cuts “corona-cuts two.” Many said they did the best they could but could not get to the suggested 10%.

Otsego County has projected a loss of about $12 million in 2020 revenue, including state aid, sales tax revenue and bed tax revenue. Previously, to close the gap, the county slashed budgets 5%, canceled several big projects, approved hiring and spending freezes and laid off 59 full and part time workers in 51 positions.

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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