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May 26, 2011

 

Treasurer office restructuring up for vote

Legislators will decide tonight on plan to reassign some duties to county admin

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

County legislators plan to vote tonight on whether to reduce some of the duties of the county treasurer, instead delegating the office’s accounting functions to the oversight of the county administrator.
The Budget and Finance Committee held a special meeting Wednesday morning, voting 5-2 to send to the floor resolutions that would move accounting duties out of the Treasurer’s Office and reduce the treasurer position to a 17-hour per week job and its salary to $25,669.
Legislators Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) and Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) were opposed.
Briggs said the move is too major and could carry extra expenses with it. She added the move is not necessary because the political parties can find qualified candidates for county treasurer.
“It is incumbent upon the parties to track those qualified people down,” Briggs said.
An experienced certified public accountant, for example, would manage the office correctly, Briggs said. She also advocated for any restructuring of the office to be planned by someone experienced in accounting, such as a CPA.
Price said she does not support changing the treasurer’s duties because it would create “chaos in the election process” with only weeks left before the parties announce their candidates.
The restructuring plan was spearheaded in recent weeks by Legislature Chairman Jack Williams (D-8th Ward).
Williams said it is the Legislature’s chance to make a change in the Treasurer’s Office since Treasurer Patrick O’Mara has announced he will not seek re-election.
Legislator Tony Pace (D-7th Ward) agrees.
“We cannot make accurate decisions when we can’t trust the numbers that get to us,” Pace said.
Pace said there have been accounting problems within the office for years and nothing has improved.
Pace cited an audit report on the Treasurer’s Office completed from Jan.1, 2002, to Aug. 13, 2003. Pace said the Legislature’s response at the time declared it is the duty of the Legislature chairman to become familiar with the fiscal affairs of the county and make recommendations to department heads to help them perform their duties better.
“That is exactly what Jack is trying to do,” Pace said.
The office has come under fire recently for not balancing accounts in a timely manner. Certified Public Accountant John Reagan was brought into the office last year to help its staff get an accurate accounting of the county’s current fiscal situation.
The office was a focal point for controversy under previous Treasurer Don Ferris, but a subsequent public vote to make the treasurer an appointed position failed overwhelmingly.
Legislators have opted not to try to make the treasurer an appointed position once more, instead ensuring the office’s accounting functions are managed by someone experienced in that area. Reallocating duties that are not state mandated, which would leave real property tax duties and foreclosure proceedings within the Treasurer’s Office, would allow the administrator to oversee accounting functions.
Therefore the deputy treasurer, principal account clerk and fiscal officer would be under the oversight of the administrator.
The treasurer would answer to the administrator and Legislature and the delinquent tax receiver would remain under the oversight of the treasurer.
Pace said that any transitions of staff would allow for greater efficiencies within the county.
“Departments are keeping their own sets of numbers and that creates inefficiencies because staff is being dedicated to that,” Pace said.
Williams said the restructuring will ensure county taxpayers’ money is managed by a qualified person, the administrator, who is the budget officer.
It remains to be seen if the measure will have enough support to pass tonight, as several legislators present at the Budget and Finance meeting Wednesday expressed opposition to the idea.

 

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