Hein takes heat for cuts to comptroller’s of­fice

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Wil­liam J. Kem­ble news@free­manon­line.com

Ul­ster County leg­is­la­tors have been asked to re­store fund­ing to the county Comptroller’s Of­fice in re­sponse to what comp­trol­lers from other New York coun­ties de­scribed as re­venge cuts by Ul­ster County Ex­ec­u­tive Michael Hein amount­ing to $175,721.

All five speak­ers at a county bud­get hear­ing on Tues­day said the pro­posed $695,221 bud­get for the in­de­pen­dently elected of­fice would force the comptroller to con­duct fewer in­ves­ti­ga­tions be­cause of the 20 percent re­duc­tion.

Among the speak­ers was Al­bany County Comptroller Michael Con­ners, who said the Leg­is­la­ture should be glad to have some­one who care­fully ex­am­ines govern­ment lead­er­ship.

“It is some­thing that you have to look at — that the Leg­is­la­ture has a rep­re­sen­ta­tive that looks over the ex­ec­u­tive’s bud­get for you, helps you with the au­dit process and the func­tions of look­ing at ex­pen­di­tures,” Con­ners said. “You want to make sure that’s go­ing to be there. When you start to cut some­body by 20 percent of staff and no one else is cut by any­where near that, it be­comes clear that you’re look­ing at a tar­geted ret­ri­bu­tion.”

Hein on Wed­nes­day said the bud­get for the comptroller’s of­fice bud­get sim­ply was too high.

“... The [county’s for­mer] nurs­ing home, which used to be a $30 mil­lion por­tion of county govern­ment, with over 300 po­si­tions that the comptroller used to have to pro­vide over­sight for ... and other por­tions of the govern­ment over­seen by the County Ex­ec­u­tive’s Of­fice, are ac­tu­ally re­duced by 40 percent,” Hein said by phone. “So it’s not un­rea­son­able to have some­thing that re­sem­bles a pro­por­tional re­duc­tion in the Comptroller’s Of­fice.”

He added: “I don’t be­lieve any elected of­fi­cial should be above tight­en­ing their belt to pro­tect tax­pay­ers.”

Onondaga County Comptroller Robert An­tonacci told Ul­ster law­mak­ers Tues­day that he was sub­jected to sim­i­lar cuts af­ter an­nounc­ing that pay raises had been il­le­gally ap­proved for his county’s leg­is­la­tors. He said he de­clined to cer­tify pay­roll for the county and took law­mak­ers to court to over­turn the salary hikes.

“My ex­ec­u­tive (Joanne Mahoney), with­out any doubt, [in] a re­venge bud­get, tried to cut my staff 25 percent,” An­tonacci said. “She elim­i­nated my en­tire pay­roll staff, wanted to take that over­sight out of our of­fice. We fought hard and our Leg­is­la­ture re­turned those po­si­tions back to our of­fice.”

Ul­ster County Comptroller El­liot Auer­bach spent sev­eral min­utes at Tues­day’s hear­ing in­tro­duc­ing all seven staff mem­bers in his of­fice, not­ing that at least two will lose their jobs if the pro­posed cuts are al­lowed to stand.

“They are busy pro­tect­ing the pub­lic’s in­ter­est from waste and abuse — seven peo­ple who un­der­stand that it is more cost­ef­fec­tive to pre­vent fraud than to de­tect it,” he said.

Fol­low­ing the hear­ing, Auer­bach said an­i­mos­ity from Hein, a fel­low Demo­crat, seems to be the re­sult of comptroller re­ports crit­i­cal of pop­u­lar pro­grams.

“I think some of our au­dits seem to touch on sen­si­tive nerves,” he said. “A cou­ple of them have been pet projects of the sixth floor (Hein’s of­fice) — one of them be­ing the elec­tric car chargers, one be­ing the ethics and cam­paign fi­nance rec­om­men­da­tions that we made.”

Auer­bach said that, “with the elec­tric car chargers, we felt [it] was lit­er­ally giv­ing away tax­pay­ers’ money by al­low­ing peo­ple to charge for free.” The Ul­ster County Re­gional Cham­ber of Com­merce ul­ti­mately agreed to pick up the costs as­so­ci­ated with the chargers.

Auer­bach said the Pa­tri­ots Project, a Hein ini­tia­tive to house home­less vet­er­ans, also is com­ing un­der scru­tiny.

“We’re in the process right now of au­dit­ing, along with the state comptroller ... the home­less vet­er­ans’ sit­u­a­tion in Ul­ster County,” he said. “While the Pa­tri­ots Project has done some great things, I don’t know that it’s solved the en­tire home­less vet­er­ans prob­lem in Ul­ster County. The Pa­triot’s Project saw 52 vet­er­ans go through it and not 52 in­di­vid­ual vet­er­ans; there’s some re­cidi­vism.”

The over­all county bud­get for 2017 that Hein has pro­posed to­tals $324.82 mil­lion, which is about 1.7 percent smaller than this year’s spend­ing plan. The pro­posed bud­get has a prop­erty tax levy of $76.89 mil­lion, which is down 0.25 percent from the 2016 level.

Auer­bach

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