Suffolk County comptroller denied in bid to lift short-term borrowing constraints

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A proposal to provide Suffolk County’s chief fiscal officer with greater flexibility for note sales was blocked.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone vetoed a bill on Jan. 19 sought by Comptroller John Kennedy that would have armed him with the ability to negotiate up to $565 million of short-term cash flow borrowing for New York State’s second largest government. The measure then took another hit Monday when the Suffolk County Legislature’s attempt at a veto override fell two votes short.

Bellone’s veto message noted that the legislation would eliminate one of the checks and balances included under amendments to the county’s procurement system in 2009. Current rules require the Suffolk comptroller to seek a waiver from a county committee before securing underwriting services.

“A comprehensive review of the procurement process and the Charter is needed so that the entire process can be reformed for greater efficiency,” said Bellone in his veto message. “However, I cannot approve a Charter Law that makes changes to the process in a way that does not address the underlying issues with the County’s procurement policy before a comprehensive evaluation is performed.”

Richard Tartora, president of Suffolk’s financial advisor, Capital Markets Advisors, said the need for more comptroller flexibility to expedite note transactions was increased after sharp market swings that developed in late 2016 following the election of President Trump and last year because of the federal tax overhaul bill.

He said the county is planning to sell $410 million in tax anticipation notes at the end of the year when markets could again shift and ultimately could cost Suffolk up to $800,000 in added expenses.

“This bill would have allowed the county to on occasion access the market more quickly when needed,” said Tartora. “We want to be able to have the right bank at the right time.”

Suffolk County on Long Island's east end, had a population of around 1.5 million in the 2010 U.S. Census. The county’s general obligation bonds are rated A-minus by S&P Global Ratings and A3 by Moody’s Investors Service. S&P lowered Suffolk’s credit rating one notch last June citing concerns about long-term reserve levels.

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Public finance Suffolk County New York