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Utica Councilman proposes making City Comptroller an appointed position

By LEXIE O'CONNOR

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Utica Councilman Joe Marino is sponsoring a new local law that would let voters decide whether the office of City Comptroller should move from an elected position to one the Common Council appoints needing to meet mandatory financial qualifications.

Marino held a press conference on his proposal Monday morning with the support of Councilors Ed Bucciero and Samantha Colosimo-Testa. Marino now wants the whole Common Council to come behind him on his plans to put the question of whether the Office of the City Comptroller be elected or appointed on the ballot for city residents to vote on in November.

Marino says his main reason for wanting the change is to transform the Comptroller position from being politically based to professionally based. He says the city cannot put skill qualifications on an elected official, but can on an appointed one. The qualifications for the appointed treasurer would be having an advanced college degree in the accounting or finance related field, and being a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or having at least 6 years of finance experience.

Marino says he's researched this idea for seven months and with the amount of debt the city has, he feels restructuring its finances with someone with professional experience would greatly benefit the city.

"There have been studies that have said an appointed treasurer over an elected comptroller has been known to save 13 - 23% on borrowing costs," says Councilor Marino. "Our borrowing costs right now are $6.5 million, having an appointed treasurer even splitting the difference, we could save roughly 15-17 %. That's $1.1 million or 5 percentage points on our taxes."

While Councilman Marino says if this proposal was voted in, it would take effect January of 2014 after current Comptroller Cerminaro finishes his term, Cerminaro released a statement Monday, stating his displeasure with the idea.

"The position of City Comptroller is one of the most important publicly elected offices in city government and needs to stay that way," Cerminaro stated in a release. "An appointed position would only serve to take away the independence that is needed in order to keep the financial affairs of the city away from petty politics and in the hands of 5 or 6 council people. That appointed person would be beholding to these select few individuals for their job security."

Cerminaro stated that he believes the depressed financial position that the city currently faces comes as a direct result of years of budgets that were passed using city reserve funds to pay everyday operating expenses.

"Especially damaging, most recently, was the use of Fund Balance (which is not cash!), along with out of control spending that has now put the city in its financial quagmire," Cerminaro stated.

He went on to say that the Comptroller's office has warned the city on a number of occasions that the situation was unsustainable and that city officials chose not to follow his office's advice.

"It’s time now to move forward with the new budget in place, to curtail spending; consolidate services; and build our reserves back up, along with other measures that are available to the city," Cerminaro stated.

Councilman Marino will present his ideas to the Common Council Tuesday night. If the council approves the proposal, it will be on the ballot for voters in November.

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