Thursday, December 9, 2010



Out of Comptrol

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This past week, the Ulster County Legislature's voted to cut $55,000 from the Ulster County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach's budget. On the one hand, to many people, this move might be seen as an example of fiscal restraint in an era of economic uncertainty. And there can be no doubt that "cutting spending" is a mantra that is currently resonating from coast to coast.

To others, however, these cuts would appear to be ill advised. The office of the county comptroller was created as part of a major overhaul to the Ulster County government. As such, it is tasked with ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent in a responsible manner, a job that should not be taken lightly in the current climate.

Yet the legislature voted to reallocate these funds in what could be categorized as the Republican-controlled legislature playing politics with the comptroller's office, despite the fact that Auerbach was handily reelected by the voters of Ulster County.

And, given the track record of spending disasters in Ulster County, it would appear to be prudent to ensure that the auditors in Auerbach's office have the tools they need in order to do the job correctly.

But Legislators Walter Frey (R-Saugerties) and Kevin Roberts (R-Wallkill) see things differently. They apparently feel that eliminating this money from the comptroller's contingency fund makes good political and economic sense.

"If the man's not spending his money, then why give it to him?" Roberts was quoted as saying in regard to the fact that Auerbach used only a small portion of this contingency fund.

"Here I am being penalized for being a good steward," Auerbach responded.

But it could have been worse. Frey and Roberts originally called not just for cutting the contingency fund, but for eliminating the position of deputy comptroller.

The voters of Ulster County, therefore, will have to be content with half a loaf.

This has led Auerbach to suggest that the budget for the comptroller's office be established by an independent commission. This is an idea that is worthy of careful consideration. What point is there in having an independent comptroller who is answerable to the electorate, if his or her office can have its budget gutted based upon the political whim of whoever happens to be in charge? Remember, control of the county legislature has changed hands several times in recent years, so this issue is something that eventually will affect legislators on both sides of the aisle.

As for Auerbach's lack of spending (some would surely note the irony of having a member of the GOP criticize the comptroller's fiscal restraint), the past year's contingency ran a surplus because the need for such spending was "unusually low."

But there are several major issues looming, on which the comptroller's office will need to keep a very close eye. The recent turmoil at the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA) is but one issue that the comptroller's office will be looking at. With questions being asked regarding the financial management at the agency, the comptroller will need all the resources he can muster. And, in the coming years, the effort to replace the decaying Golden Hill Health Care Center will require careful oversight.

Auerbach, himself, is not immune from criticism. Residents of Ellenville certainly have a bone or two to pick with him. But this is beside the point. Love him or hate him, Auerbach will be our comptroller for the next three years. And, given the track record of spending boondoggles in Ulster County, it would seem prudent to ensure that the county's fiscal cop can do his job properly.

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Anonymous said...

Hugh Reynolds says it best - Republican impotence — some say collusion — will have consequences, probably within the next few months. The short answer is, unless they develop some backbone, opportunity may have gone out the window.

TPW said...
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