County Treasurer Ira Cohen reports: Economy's looking up
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO December 17, 2013 County Treasurer Ira Cohen offered several indications Thursday that the county’s economy is headed up.
“It looks like we’re going to end this year on a good note,” he told legislators during the Management and Budget Committee meeting.
At one point this year, Sullivan County’s sales tax collections were down more than half a million dollars from the prior year.
But now the sales tax is ahead of last year’s at this time by $136,895.66, Cohen reported.
“In October, it started to pick up,” he noted.
Mortgage tax collections are even higher, $201,216.25 above this time last year.
The room tax is down by $81,666.56, but that does not yet include figures from the final months of the year.
Yet what excited Cohen and legislators far more was the increase in the county’s bond rating by Standard and Poor’s (S&P) from A+ to AA, just two notches under their highest available rating.
That came with a “stable outlook” assessment determined before the pro-casino vote in November.
“We were very, very pleased, needless to say,” Cohen said.
In a press release, he explained that S&P sought out the county for a new rating (the last one being four years old), even though Sullivan officials were concerned it could result in a downgrade, making bond interest rates more expensive.
“To be honored with a ratings increase is truly gratifying,” Cohen said, “and it is a sign that we here in the county government are not alone in our growing optimism for fiscal growth and stability in Sullivan County.”
Indeed, S&P cited the following as reasons for the rating upgrade:
• A downward trend in the county’s unemployment rate
• Strong budgetary flexibility, thanks to available reserves
• Strong budgetary performance, evidenced by small surpluses
• Strong liquidity, internally and externally
• Good financial leadership and practices, including policies on fund balance, debt and long-term capital improvements
• An aggressive approach to handling debt and pension obligations