Report shows financial progress in Nassau prior to COVID-19

Rose Weldon
Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman said the county's finances had been on an upward track prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

The Nassau County Comptroller’s Office Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2019, released yesterday, indicates that the county was making positive progress in its finances prior to onset of COVID-19 this year.

The report shows that prior to the onset of COVID-19, the county’s overall operating deficit and rainy-day fund were seeing significant improvement, according to Comptroller Jack Schnirman.

“As in [2018’s] report, the numbers in the fiscal year of 2019 showed that Nassau County was continuing to move in the right direction, eliminating the County’s operating deficit and reestablishing the rainy day fund,” Schnirman said. “While a lot of critical work was done across county government, the unprecedented storm of COVID-19 has been a gut punch to  county finances and is upending progress. The [report] provides us an effective look at where Nassau County was financially before COVID-19.”

Data shows that Nassau County ended 2019 with a $145.3 million surplus in its three primary operating funds, an improvement from 2018’s deficit of $27.5 million and 2017’s deficit of $122.4 million.

The county’s total unassigned fund balance, or rainy-day fund, saw a $134.2 million increase from a $22 million deficit at the end of fiscal year 2018 to $112.2 million at the end of 2019. Two years earlier, at the end of 2017, the county’s rainy-day fund was at a deficit of $68.8 million.

Factors that drove the improvement included higher sales tax revenues, according to the comptroller’s office, include a robust pre-COVID Long Island economy, sales tax collections growing by 3.5 percent in 2019, total revenues growing by $47.7 million from 2018, spending less on personnel costs primarily resulting from salary and fringe cost savings, and higher off-track betting revenue due to video lottery terminal receipts of $15 million.

Following the onset of COVID-19, the comptroller’s office says, it conducted an analysis of the impact on County revenues, modeling low, moderate, and high impacts that project sales tax declines from 12 to 28 percent.

With sales tax as the county’s largest revenue source, and without revenue assistance from the federal government, the impacts of COVID-19 will likely erase the significant progress of the past two years, Schnirman says. For transparency reasons, the office will be placing its full report online.

“Presenting consistent standards and accurately comparing numbers year over year is a key component of our work in the Comptroller’s Office,” Schnirman said. “To that end, our team is making this complex financial information more accessible to all with the release of the Popular Report for the second year, a more digestible document that makes this complex information much more accessible, as well as an update to the Comptroller’s Scorecard, a dashboard on Open Nassau that displays the key indicators we use to measure Nassau County’s fiscal health. While a global pandemic is an unprecedented variable, consistency in showing the public the trajectory of the County’s finances will help us best plan ahead as we work to recover from this crisis.”

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