Pagano’s Stultifying Letter, Ad Made Little Sense When Trying to Decipher it

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It’s hard not to feel bad for Dan Pagano, the Cortlandt Republican chair, who ponied up more than $1,000 (of his own money, apparently) to print two full pages of Cortlandt town financial statements in last week’s Examiner, data purporting to prove fiscal mismanagement by outgoing Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi.

Happily, for him, Mr. Pagano also scored over 20 column inches on the letters page that he could have used to explain how the financial data (nearly 100 lines of very fine print) supported his thesis that the town has been borrowing money to meet its operating expenses for the last decade. Instead, he squandered most of his letter to the editor on an incomprehensible rebuttal of his Democratic counterpart’s defense of Supervisor Puglisi’s record.

I may have a graduate degree in public policy, but I’m as clueless as the next person when it comes to appreciating the finer points of a financial statement. However, after squinting through the data presented in Mr. Pagano’s two-page ad, I did have a couple of observations:

First, expenditures for capital improvements (“outlays,” in accountant-ese) are typically funded through borrowing, so counting such spending against revenues is misleading. Over the 10 years covered in Mr. Pagano’s data, the town ran a healthy surplus, nearly $15 million in total, once capital outlays are backed out of total expenditures. In addition, since 2011, debt service as a percentage of expenditures steadily fell from 4.8 percent in 2011 to 2.1 percent in 2020. That’s probably what motivated Moody’s to upgrade the town’s bond rating.

Secondly, the annual amount of property taxes collected by the town increased from $18.5 million in 2011 to $21.5 million in 2020, about 1.5 percent per year, lower than the rate of inflation.

Perhaps Mr. Pagano’s legal training has given him an insight into all these numbers that is escaping me, but it would be hard to argue that his presentation in last week’s Examiner did much more than induce eye strain among the wonkish sorts, like myself, who bothered to plow through the data he paid so dearly to place on the record.

Rob Abbot

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