The Ulster County comptroller is urging the county legislature to adopt a policy concerning the transfer of funds already appropriated for positions that remain unfilled. The policy recommendation, intended to increase transparency and accountability, comes with the release of a quarterly report. And some are taking issue with the report.
The quarterly report from County Comptroller Elliot Auerbach looked at unfilled vacancies, turnover savings and budget transfers as a result of monies he says are stockpiled from those vacancies and transfers.
“And we see that there are a couple of areas of concern that were raised by our examination. And one in particular are the number of vacancies that are carried over budget to budget,” Auerbach says. “So, in this particular report, we examined 19 of those vacancies that were unfilled in two budget cycles and that literally generated three-quarters of a million dollars that have been sitting there to be used for a myriad of different things at the discretion, really, of the budget officer and of the executive.”
He says over the four-year span from 2014-2017, there has been a $591,000 increase in the amount associated with funded unfilled vacancies. Republican Ken Ronk is chairman of the Ulster County Legislature. He says it is troubling that the report does not differentiate between county-funded positions and ones tied to state and/or federal funding.
“So some of these vacancies might not be county funds at all,” Ronk says.
He is looking through the report to see which ones are.
“So of the well over $2 million dollars, it might be less than $1 million in county-funded positions,” Ronk says. “But again, that’s where the comptroller tries to make a mountain out of a molehill, typically.”
“Well, it’s an interesting point, certainly but, then again, if there was an awareness that these monies were not forthcoming, then those positions should not have appeared on the budget to begin with,” says Auerbach. “And I think that goes back to the concerns raised by several of the legislators who really want to see the list of those positions, really the personnel listing, to be able to balance and ask questions like that at the time of budget.”
“And the comptroller can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe a lot of those social services positions are completely state funded and that the reason that they are being held over is because the state’s in the process of taking over some of the duties from the county in the Medicaid department,” says Ronk. “And I believe that we don’t want to eliminate those positions until such time as the state finishes the takeover.”
Meanwhile, Auerbach says the report propelled a policy recommendation.
“So we created this report really also as a call to arms, so to speak, for the legislature to potentially adopt a policy that would empower them to make decisions over the transfer of these already appropriated budget funds,” Auerbach says. “And we went further to follow some of the money that was transferred out of the payroll line that was generated by these unfilled vacancies and saw that money was used for things like postage and mailing and things that probably the legislature had no idea they were being used for.”
Democratic Ulster County Legislator John Parete is chairman of the Government Efficiency and Review Committee and thinks Auerbach’s recommendation is a good one.
“Well, we have to go somewhere in that direction. Unfilled vacancies is always an area where the government can sort of hoard cash and then move it over to an unfunded balance,” says Parete. “And we’re really are overcharging the taxpayers when those positions aren’t filled.”
Here’s Deputy County Executive Ken Crannell.
“I find it disturbing that the county comptroller keeps issuing reports that are riddled with inaccuracies,” Crannell says. “It’s as if he has no understanding of municipal budgeting.”
It’s not the first time the county comptroller and county executive’s office have been at odds. Crannell says some 50 percent of the positions listed in the report as vacant are filled.