August 13, 2013


County to explore comptroller

Idea to replace treasurer could go to referendum next year

Staff Reporter

Tompkins County Administrator Joe Mareane and Comptroller David Squires touted the benefits of having an appointed comptroller at a workshop of the Cortland County Legislature on Monday.
County legislators are exploring the idea of allowing voters to decide if they want to do away with an elected treasurer in favor of an appointed comptroller. Supporters like Legislature Chair Mike Park (R-Homer) and legislator Tony Pace (D-7th Ward) and County Administrator Martin Murphy tout the benefits of having someone with municipal finance experience overseeing county finances.
Detractors like Legislators Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) and Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) say they think their constituents want to continue to vote for a treasurer.
But Legislators Monday gave Murphy the go-ahead to explore what creating a Comptroller Office would entail. Murphy will fine-tune the job description and hammer out what the office structure would be and report back to the Legislature in coming months.
The idea would not be ready for a vote in September to make it to referendum by the November election. Murphy said there is no rush in preparing a job description.
He hopes the Legislature could vote to approve putting the question of creating a Comptroller Office to the public next year.
Murphy thinks a Comptroller Office would ultimately save the county money by resulting in consolidated jobs and more efficient fiscal management. With a qualified professional leading the office, Murphy thinks the various fiscal tasks that were removed from the office a few years back, could all be put back into the department.
“The person who’s doing payroll this day can do tax collection or accounts payable ... the rest of the week,” Murphy said as an example of consolidation.
In 2011 the accounting functions of the Treasurer’s Office were placed under the county administrator in response to concerns about late reporting and accounts not being reconciled in the Treasurer’s Office.
Mareane said the comptroller is one of four positions that report directly to the Tompkins County Legislature, along with the Legislature clerk, the administrator and the county auditor.
The direct reporting gives the Legislature full oversight and ultimate control over the hiring and firing of these positions, he said.
The approximately $750,000 cost of the department and the $100,000 annual salary of the comptroller, raised a few eyebrows among legislators, however. Monroe’s annual salary is about $33,000.
Legislator John Natoli (R-8th Ward) said that even if the department was to cost $200,000 more, he would vote against it.
But Mareane said that he thinks the savings that will be yielded by having a financial expert in the office, make any extra cost of running the department worthwhile.
Murphy said he could guarantee the department would not cost $750,000. He envisions it actually saving money by consolidating jobs. The two people in the Audit Department, one in the Personnel Department, three in the Administrator’s Office and the two in the Treasurer’s Office currently handling various aspects of the county’s finances could be consolidated into one office, he said.
Park said that he thinks a comptroller in Cortland would have an annual salary in the $80,000 range, pointing out that is not much more than the $60,000 salary the treasurer carried before some duties were removed in 2011.
Murphy said it would be advantageous in many ways to have a comptroller, someone to help him with budget planning and help prepare the county for the financial trends coming in the future.
“We don’t currently receive the benefits of having someone with experience to provide projections and trends and various analysis,” he said.
He plans to speak with department heads overseeing tasks such as payroll, auditing and other financial duties that could be consolidated into one office to get their ideas.


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