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As Democrat Nathan McMurray looks for votes in a Republican-leaning congressional district, he points to his record as Grand Island town supervisor the last two and a half years.
On Aug. 8, the day Republican incumbent Chris Collins was arrested on insider trading charges, McMurray held a news conference and prepared his supporters for the attacks he said will come in the race for New York’s 27th Congressional District.
"The cheaters are still going to fight," McMurray said. "They’re still going to try to cheat. They’re going to try to label me, someone who’s been a small-town supervisor, who has kept a balanced budget, who has increased surpluses, who has led us to the highest credit rating our town has ever had, who is an Eagle Scout, who is a father and a husband and a dad, that I’m some type of radical because I have a D next to my name. When is this game of party affiliation going to end?"
We decided to evaluate the claims he made about his tenure as Grand Island supervisor. He began a four-year term in January 2016.
Local governments must adopt balanced budgets, according to the New York State Comptroller’s Office. Excluding capital projects which are funded by debt not included in balanced budget calculations, the town took in $19.9 million in 2016 and spent $18.6 million, according to the town’s financial statements.
In 2017, the town posted revenues of $20 million and spent $19.1 million.
Deducting spending on capital projects from the town's financial statements is the most accurate way to evaluate McMurray's balanced budget claim, said Pam Barton, Grand Island’s accountant.
Is that the same as a surplus?
The generally accepted definition of "surplus" in town government is the amount of money in "unassigned fund balance" in the town’s general fund, Barton said.
For Grand Island, the unassigned fund balance was $5.9 million in 2015, the year before McMurray took office, $6.8 million in 2016 and $6.7 million in 2017. It dropped a bit last year but was still higher than the surplus from the year before he took office.
Grand Island received its highest credit rating since at least 2001 in September 2016, Barton said.
When Barton became town accountant in 2001, the town’s bond rating was A2, she said, four notches below its current rating of Aa1 by Moody's Investors Service.
The town’s current rating is the second-highest on Moody’s scale. Barton said because of the town’s size and budget, it likely will never reach the highest rating.
Barton said the town has always been rated by Moody’s, and has not received ratings from Standard & Poor’s or Fitch Ratings.
McMurray made three claims about his record of managing Grand Island’s finances.
It’s fair to point out that Grand Island’s strong financial position is the result of years of sound management, not only changes made since McMurray took office in 2016, Barton said.
"He’s been continuing the things that have been in place from before," the town accountant said.
Still, his claim about keeping a balanced budget is true.
McMurray’s claim about increasing surpluses is mostly true. The town had more surplus funds at the end of 2017 than it did when he took office, though it decreased slightly in his second year in office.
His claim that the town has the highest credit rating it has ever had is true, based on all available information.
We rate his statement True.
Video from McMurray’s news conference on Aug. 8, 2018, accessed Aug. 18, 2018.
Telephone conversation with Brian Butry, spokesman, Office of the State Comptroller, Aug. 22, 2018.
Telephone conversation and email with Pam Barton, Grand Island town accountant, Aug. 22, 2018.
Office of the State Comptroller, Local Government Management Guide: Understanding the Budget Process, page 5. Accessed Aug. 25, 2018.
Town of Grand Island Financial Report for the Year Ended Dec. 31, 2016, page 16. Accessed Aug. 25, 2018.
Town of Grand Island Financial Report for the Year Ended Dec. 31, 2017, page 16. Accessed Aug. 25, 2018.
Moody’s rating scales, p. 6 and p. 21, accessed Aug. 25, 2018.
Moody’s explanation of absence of a rating, accessed Aug. 25, 2018.
Moody’s ratings records on Town of Grand Island. (Log-in required.) Accessed Aug. 25, 2018.
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