Cortland County among low fiscal stress localities in the state

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Cortland County in 2021 registered the lowest possible score on the financial stress scale designed by the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC), according to the latest state report issued in September.

The county scored a “0.0” rating in the financial stress scale metric and designations rely on data from annual financial reports submitted by local governments to OSC. Legislators discussed the news at this week’s Finance and Administration Committee meeting.

“With respect to the fiscal score that the county received over the last three years, the county had a score of 20 back in 2019,” said County Manager of Audits and Financial Projects Stephen Trobert. “It improved in 2020 to 13.3, and it actually has improved again in 2021. The county actually received a score of zero for 2021. So that's certainly a positive note, and the trend over the last few years is encouraging for sure.”

County Director of Budget and Finance Andrea Herzog said one of the biggest elements that factor into the score is fund balance.

“It went up significantly from those three years every year,” she said. “Another piece that is a huge factor is also our cash and investments. That includes our funding from the American Rescue Plan and the additional sales tax. We have a significant amount of cash in our hands.”

OSC also compiles an environmental stress indicator. The county scored a 13.3 in that particular index.

“For that, they look at our census information,” Herzog said. “They look at our population, our reliance on state aid, unemployment rate, and household income and they use that. But for that score, we scored a “no designation” (or 13.3).”

Herzog said the positive scores aren’t indicative of the county having no financial issues.

“It just means that they've looked at that data and they've determined that as far as being budgetary solvent or insolvent, there’s little risk,” she added.

According to 2021 figures from the Census Bureau, Cortland County has an estimated population of 46,311 residents. The median household income was $59,194, based on Census figures from 2020. A map from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated in August that the unemployment rate in the county is 3.9 percent.

Legislature Chair Kevin Fitch (R-LD-8) thanked county financial employees ratings for helping the county achieve the positive financial ratings.

“What these ratings are saying is that we’re doing much better than we were two years ago,” Fitch said. “It just seems to me that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing as a county, and having our key players in place. For me, I have to say thanks for getting us from 20 to zero.”

Legislative Majority Leader George Wagner (R-LD-15) said the finance department has had a “bumpy ride” dating back to 2015, but commended the efforts of current fiscal administrators.

“We have a good, solid finance department. We have a solid County Administrator, and we're looking pretty good,” he said. “We want to continue that way. We can with the right budget.”

Despite the positive ratings, Wagner warned officials of a potential economic downturn forecasted by economists and public officials at all levels of government.

“In the next few years, we are going to need to cut back in certain areas,” he said. “I don't want to alarm anyone, but I see what's coming. We’re recovering nicely, but it’s not over.”