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September 16, 2013

 

DiNapoli: Fishkill Facing Financial Challenges


Unrealistic budgets, insufficient revenues and the lack of rainy day funds have left the Dutchess County town of Fishkill in fiscal stress, according to an audit issued today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“The town of Fishkill is digging out from sizeable operating deficits caused by years of poor budgeting,” said DiNapoli. “The current administration has begun to implement the necessary changes to improve Fishkill’s finances. Continuing these efforts will be vital to eliminating the remaining deficit, building up adequate reserves and avoiding future large fluctuations in tax rates.”

Auditors found the town’s year-end fund balance for its major operating funds had a combined $2.2 million deficit at the end of 2012. The deficit was fueled by overestimated revenues in 2009 and 2010 and underestimated expenses in 2010 and 2011.

As a result, town officials frequently loaned moneys between multiple funds to cover operating expenses. Although these loans are required to be paid back during the same fiscal year, the town had $10.3 million of outstanding interfund loans at the end of 2012, some of which date back to 2009.

DiNapoli noted that improved budgeting practices, coupled with tax levy increases, have allowed officials to make progress in reducing portions of the town’s deficit. For example, the town-wide general fund deficit declined from $1.4 million in 2011 to $132,000 by the close of the 2012 fiscal year.

Still, challenges remain. Specifically, the fund balance of the town sewer fund declined from a surplus of $765,000 in 2009 to a $1.3 million deficit in 2012. This occurred primarily because sewer revenues were not sufficient to cover operating costs. Further, at the end of 2012 the town-outside-village general fund had a $2.4 million deficit fund balance and the town highway fund had a $434,280 deficit.

Auditors also found:

  • Town officials failed to charge residents for services in two smaller sewer districts, resulting in lost revenue of approximately $188,000 annually;
  • In 2009 and 2010, the town over budgeted for mortgage tax revenue by a combined $1.4 million and parks revenue by a combined $110,000;
  • In 2010 and 2011, the town underestimated legal expenses by more than $500,000; and
  • The town did not use nearly $782,000 in donated funds as stipulated by the donors, but instead applied the money towards general and sewer operations. This included $758,000 intended for a sewer system extension which was never built.

DiNapoli recommended the town adopt more realistic budgets and monitor operations throughout the year more closely to ensure further deficits do not occur.

The audit also recommended the town board:

  • Reduce the deficits in all the major funds and develop a realistic plan to accumulate fund balance so that the town is prepared for unexpected expenses or revenue shortfalls;
  • Review all interfund advances and determine the actual amount owed to each fund; and
  • Ensure that all interfund borrowings are repaid in a timely manner.

Town officials agreed with the audit findings and indicate they have already begun developing a multi-year financial plan to address many of the issues raised in the report. The town’s complete response is included in the audit: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/towns/2013/fishkill.pdf

For access to state and local government spending and nearly 50,000 state contracts, visit http://www.openbooknewyork.com/. The easy-to-use website was created by Comptroller DiNapoli to promote openness in government and provide taxpayers with better access to the financial workings of government.

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