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Gore Mountain is an anchor for Warren County's winter economy. Photo: Gore Mountain website
Gore Mountain is an anchor for Warren County's winter economy. Photo: Gore Mountain website

Comptroller: Olympic authority needs "fiscal balance"

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A new report issued this week by New York's state Comptroller office is aiming fire at the business and accounting practices of the Olympic Regional Development Authority.

That's the state-owned enterprise that operates sports and tourism venues in the Adirondacks and Catskills.

The audit found that ORDA is losing money and is often forced to borrow cash to pay for basic operations.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. Photo: Comptroller's office
New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. Photo: Comptroller's office
In his report, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli focuses on what he describes as “ORDA’s continuing struggles to maintain fiscal balance.”

The audit points to a wide range of problems including regular budget shortfalls and what the Comptroller’s office describes as widely inaccurate projections by ORDA about income and expenses.

“[T]he authority needs to explore new ways to save costs and commit to sound financial planning going forward,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

...the authority needs to explore new ways to save costs and commit to sound financial planning going forward...
Debt and lack of funds for capital improvements

The report found that between 2010 and 2013, ORDA ran roughly $4.2 million in the red. 

But according to DiNapoli, those losses balloon to some $45 million when you factor in business expenses like depreciation and retirement benefits owed to employees.   

A major concern is the fact that ORDA isn’t earning enough money to set aside cash for capital improvements and upkeep of its facilities. As a result, auditors found that the state-run entity has been forced to rely on grants and spending from other state agencies.

Also, because ORDA relies often on a line of credit to pay its bills, the Comptroller audit found that the authority has paid more than half a million dollars in interest fees over the last five years.

ORDA is one of the most important tourism and economic development entities in the North Country, with facilities in Wilmington, Lake Placid and North Creek that draw tens of thousands of visitors a year.

Ski centers at Whiteface and Gore Mountains are tent-poles in the region’s winter economy.

ORDA responds

ORDA CEO Ted Blazer. Photo: Chris Morris
ORDA CEO Ted Blazer. Photo: Chris Morris
In their response to the audit, ORDA officials acknowledged some concerns, but they also said that many of the issues raised by the Comptroller reflect the unique operations of a seasonal tourism enterprise.

Borrowing on the line of credit is often necessary, according to ORDA, because of fluctuations in weather and in state funding. 

“[W]eather and operating conditions may affect the overall outcome of any fiscal year,” ORDA said.

But ORDA also said that they will work to develop better procedures for documenting outstanding balances with clients. 

And they acknowledged struggles in finding banks willing to extend lines of credit on favorable conditions.

International bobsled teams come to Lake Placid because of ORDA's venue, but questions are being raised about the authorities ability to maintain facilities.  Photo:  Brian Mann
International bobsled teams come to Lake Placid because of ORDA's venue, but questions are being raised about the authorities ability to maintain facilities. Photo: Brian Mann
In its conclusion, ORDA says it will take steps “to address and correct” some of the concerns raised by the Comptroller.  

This report comes as state authorities in New York continue to face heightened scrutiny for their financial practices, their growing debt load, and for what critics have described as their mixed success in creating jobs. 

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