Binghamton city audit: $6M in 'rainy day fund'

By Kelly McCarthy

July 16, 2013 Updated Jul 17, 2013 at 12:59 AM EST

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Portions of a 2011 Binghamton city audit show the city has more than $6 million in reserves. That's money that likely won't be spent on the city's biggest financial hurdle: The embattled joint sewage treatment plant.

For the first time in more than 10 years city of Binghamton leaders feel they could take care of taxpayers in the event of another disaster. How well a city handles emergency situations all comes from how much money they have saved, officials said Tuesday during the partial release of the long-awaited 2011 audit.

"The audits, if you look carefully at them," said Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan, "They'll show that we've done more with less and we've brought up the fund balance dramatically."

The city built up more than $6 million in its general fund balance, the highest it's been in years, Ryan said.

"That's almost a 2,700 percent increase," Ryan said, "Over what we inherited, which was a $219,256 fund balance from the 2005 year when we took over."

A rainy day fund is not the name Binghamton's City Comptroller will ever use. Charles Pearsall said having millions of dollars unattached to any particular fund is essential to a financially healthy city.

"It's not necessarily an excess," Pearsall said, "It's just a safety level, if something were to happen, we are guaranteed to meet the bills for 30 to 60 days."

The audit did show a downside: The city is battling a deficit with the joint sewage treatment plant. It shows $1.3 million deficit, which will likely be fixed by increased sewer rates.

"We've got money out that's owed by FEMA," Ryan said. "We don't have that back yet, so we're going to have to take some fairly quick action on those rates, probably.

Pearsall said damage to the treatment plant in the 2011 flood and a more expensive chemical treatment process to sewage are responsible for the deficit.

Ryan hopes whoever is next to fill his shoes doesn't dip into the rainy day fund just yet. The city is hoping this audit will increase its recently downgraded credit score. Moody's Investors Services downgraded the city from A1 to A2 in January.

"I'm just hoping that the next mayor maintains that fiscal responsibility and a healthy fund balance so that when Moody's looks at our books they can say, they're doing a good job, we're going to give them a good rating," Ryan said.

The city entered a three-year contract with an Ithaca-based accounting firm to complete the audit. Ciaschi, Dietershagen, Little, Mickelson & Co., LLP released a only a portion of the financial audit per Binghamton's request. The full audit should be released within two weeks.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli will be visiting Binghamton Thursday to release a full fiscal profile of the city.

Ryan says some of the issues he will discuss are Binghamton's high poverty and unemployment rates, as well as the city's fund balance.

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