File photo: Denise Civiletti

(Updated: Oct. 1 at 4:30 a.m.)

Suffolk County has been ranked by the state comptroller as the most fiscally stressed county government in New York for the second year in a row.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Thursday announced fiscal stress rankings for 2018, based on financial information reported to the comptroller’s office by local governments operating on a calendar year basis (Jan. 1 – Dec. 31). In New York, that includes all counties and towns, 44 cities and 10 villages. The comptroller said 139 municipalities did not file their financial data with his office in time to be included in the fiscal stress scores.

There are 25 local governments in fiscal stress, DiNapoli said Thursday. Ten of those municipalities, including Suffolk, are in the highest ranking designation of “significant fiscal stress.”

The comptroller’s rankings are based the total number of points on a scorecard measuring indicators of financial stability, such as fund balances, operating deficits, cash ratios, trends in short-term debt issuance to cover gaps in cash flow, payroll and benefits as a percentage of total revenue, and debt service as a percentage of total revenue. The higher the number of points, the greater a municipality’s fiscal stress.

Suffolk scored 76.7 for both 2018 and 2017. It scored 64.2 in 2016. Scores of 65 or greater indicate “significant fiscal stress,” the comptroller said.

Suffolk received the maximum number of points in 5 of the 9 indicators on the scorecard: Assigned and Unassigned Fund Balance; total fund balance; operating deficit; cash ratio; short-term cash-flow debt issuance; and short-term cash-flow debt issuance trend. It received the second-highest score for cash ratio.

Long Island is one of two regions in the state with the largest proportion of local governments in a fiscal stress category. There are three stress categories: susceptible to stress, moderate stress, significant stress. Two other counties in New York were ranked in the significant fiscal stress category: Nassau (72.1) and Westchester (69.6). All three counties were ranked in the significant fiscal stress category in both 2018 and 2017.

A spokesperson for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the county executive inherited a $500 million deficit when he took office in 2011. Since then, the county has eliminated the deficit, reduced debt and now has budgets that are structurally balanced, said spokesperson Marykate Guilfoyle. She noted that the county’s stress score did not increase from 2017 to 2018.

“County Executive Bellone has been digging Suffolk out of the massive financial crisis that he inherited while protecting taxpayers by freezing the county tax and staying within the tax cap,” Guilfoyle said.

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy, a Republican, is challenging Democrat Bellone in this year’s election, criticized the incumbent’s policies, which “have spelled disaster for Suffolk residents,” according to a press release issued by his campaign.

“He has incurred a debt of almost $900 million, added $200 million in new taxes and fees, raised the property tax levy by 22.4% and increased the budget by almost 15%. Meanwhile, Suffolk has declared seven fiscal emergencies, faced seven bond downgrades and saw more than 16,000 residents move out of the county,” the Kennedy press release said.

“Enough is enough. We must end the tax-and-spend policies of Steve Bellone that have created this fiscal crisis and hurt Suffolk County taxpayers,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy, of Nesconset, was elected county comptroller in 2014. Prior to that, he served 10 years in the county legislature, representing the 12th Legislative District.

Editor’s note: This article was updated with additional information provided by the county executive’s office yesterday but not included in the original version.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.