Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners believes the county is headed in a good direction, but it can’t leave behind those most in need.
Conners delivered his annual State of the Fiscal Condition report to the county legislature before its Monday, May 12, meeting. He said 2013 was positive for the county’s finances and provided an overview of revenues, which are increasing greater than expenses.
Watch Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners’ State of the Fiscal Condition address and view the presentation slides at our blog entry.
“The bottom line is we had a good year,” Conners said. “I think it should put to death the idea that we can’t run the county successfully and still operate the nursing home.”
Conners applauded the legislature for working with County Executive Dan McCoy to reach an agreement on the future of the county’s nursing home. Last year’s report focused on the nursing home. This year, Conners focused on how the county handles poverty.
“You had a very good year and I think you all deserve a lot of credit,” Conners said, “but I think you need to give a round of applause to the 2,400-plus county employees that have done a phenomenal job for us.”
After providing a brief financial overview, he shifted to focusing on “policy failures” of the Department of Social Services.
Conners said the percentage of people below the poverty line in the county has increased from around 9 percent in 1970 to 13.1 percent in 2012, or almost 37,700 people. This also was an increase from 2010 with 12.6 percent of county residents below the poverty line, or 36,300 people.
“If you asked me before we did this work how many of you actually represent people who fit the federal definition of poverty, I would have said 10 or 12,” Conners said. “25 of the 39 districts have federal poverty.”
Conners also proposed some remedies to help lift residents out of poverty.
“We need to do something different,” Conners said. “We have lost the war on poverty. … When you have poverty that continues to grow like this, you are losing.”
He said the county should investigate potential Demonstration Grant Waiver programs, which is a “creative way” to help combat poverty.
The county Department of Audit and Control will be producing estimates for a Department of Social Services management and productivity study, he said.
“You get what you really need to know from people really doing the work, and a lot of great ideas will come out of that,” he said.
Conners’ last proposed remedy is for the county legislature and executive to appoint a “high level” task force to look into federal, state and local opportunities to reduce the rate of growth in welfare programs the county uses.
The undesignated fund balance increased more than $7.5 million last year, totaling $34.86 million. It also represented 8.25 percent of total net revenue, which Conners said is close to where the county should be at 10 percent.
Expenditures increased $8.36 million last year and totaled $513.4 million, but revenue increased more at nearly $12.57 million and totaled $518.9 million. The excess revenue over expenditures in 2012 was $1.29 million, but last year increased to nearly $5.5 million.
Sales tax revenue last year increased $1.3 million to total $240 million, with the county’s portion totaling $144 million. Property tax revenue last year increased more significantly with a $10.8 million bump to total about $86.55 million.
“The property tax is a notable number,” Conners said. “That property tax does give you a real distinct analysis of the economy.”
Tax collections were much better last year, he said, and helped to improve overall revenue.
The civic center, known as the Times Union Center, had a $326,000 plummet in revenue to total about $500,000 last year.
The loss in state aid, though, was the hardest hit for the county’s revenue, with it decreasing $5.37 million to total $54.14 million.
“When they’re talking about their two percent tax cap, they aren’t talking about a two percent spending cap or their ability to mandate services upon us,” Conners said.
Federal aid did increase $6.7 million and totaled $70.83 million.