Van Buren Comptroller
A comptroller in town government wears many hats. The individual must possess an in-depth knowledge of government accounting, usually requiring a college or advanced degree, communication skills, conflict resolution skills and the ability to handle multiple projects at once.
Appointed by the town board and with a term of office, the comptroller approves all bills for payment. New York state law says no payment can be made if not approved by the comptroller. Some of the review process of bills is mundane: is the invoice mathematically correct, the unit cost verified by a purchase order or other documentation, and were the goods or services actually received?
Purchases also must adhere to what the state defines as a proper town charge. Is the amount reasonable and the purchase necessary to further the objective of the town? Is there money appropriated in the annual budget? Was the expense authorized by the town board if required? Are town and state procurement regulations followed and competitive bids obtained when required?
A department head taking staff out to lunch to celebrate a birthday or someone attending a conference without prior authorization are examples of expenditures that a comptroller cannot authorize. Rejecting an invoice always leads to conflict with elected officials or other employees, but a comptroller must stand firm in these instances.
In many towns, the comptroller serves as the town’s chief accounting officer and budget officer. The comptroller must record transactions in the correct accounts and funds. Van Buren has two general funds, a highway fund and multiple street lighting, drainage, sewer and water funds. How much a person pays in taxes depends on where in the town they live.
Each year, the comptroller solicits budget requests from each department. Often, due to financial restraints, departmental requests are adjusted. The budget is then submitted to the town board for review, all within a time frame established by the state.
Comptrollers are required to audit any department that receives money on an annual basis. This includes the town clerk, receiver of taxes, justice court, parks and recreation and possibly others. Occasionally, during the audit a comptroller will find evidence that a theft of funds has occurred. This has to be reported to the town board and law enforcement.
Comptrollers serve as consultants to elected officials and provide advice as to the best course of action. Employee benefits cost taxpayers in excess of 40 percent of payroll. From worker’s compensation insurance to health insurance, the comptroller is active in advising elected officials as to which coverage to obtain. Worker’s comp is based on payroll exposure in various categories. Proper recording of the cost can lower the overall cost.
Comptrollers often are the lead person on financing capital programs, administering grants and investing idle cash. Many towns do not realize there is a program available to earn over 2 percent annually. Van Buren utilizes this, which in turn lowers taxes. Working in the background, comptrollers cost out proposals during union negotiations, and sometimes, as in my case, even as lead negotiator.