By ALISSA SCOTT
In the midst of Amsterdam's financial instability and severely late filing of its annual update document lies a race for city controller.
Matthew Agresta, 29, an assistant manager of a residential facility at Liberty ARC, and Irene Collins, who is "in her 50s" and a local landlord, will compete for the position. It has been empty since Ronald Wierzbicki died in office late 2012.
The city opted to hire a deputy controller in the meantime, David Mitchell, who has been doing the job of the controller since.
The city has still not filed its annual update document (AUD), a required report to the state that details actual expenses and revenues. The document is now nearly a year late. The state comptroller's office performed a procedural audit of Amsterdam's government accounts which found what has been described as "inadequate, inaccurate and incomplete" accounting records. The state was unable to determine if and where 17 bank accounts were reconciled since the last audit.
The city approved resolutions to hire West & Co. to look at the city's books and a separate accountant, Lauren Poehlman, to specifically work on the capital projects.
Agresta, a Republican and a lifelong city resident, ran against Wierzbicki during the last election and lost in a close race. This will be the first time Collins, a Democrat from Mount Vernon, will run for an elected position.
"I bring the experience," Collins said. "I bring the personal aspect. It's not just the job. You have to care. Yes, I know numbers, but you have to know people, too."
"You can't argue with experience," Agresta admitted, "but there's only one way for me to get it. I know I can do this job."
Agresta, who also worked as Mayor Ann Thane's confidential aide from 2008-09, graduated from the state University of New York at Albany with a degree in finance and marketing and political science. During his years at school, he said he worked through simulated budget analysis for corporations like Bank of America, but never a municipality. He has not worked with the KVS System, the current accounting program used by the city.
Collins graduated from Mercy College with a degree in accounting and from National University with a master's in global business. She has 30 years of accounting experience and 12 years as deputy comptroller of the city of Mount Vernon where she managed a 12-person staff. She moved to Amsterdam six years ago. Collins is also unfamiliar with the KVS System.
Analyzing the situation
Collins said, from her understanding, a lot of the issues are day-to-day accounting that has been neglected, causing the accounts to be "unmanageable." If elected, she said her main goal is to learn KVS, catch up with the hired firms and then focus on filing the AUD.
"It's a matter of roll up your sleeves and get to work," Collins said. "OK, let's look at the cash activity from all the other departments. Is the money coming to the controller's office everyday? Is it being put in the bank? There's a lot of different things we have to do."
Agresta said without personally seeing the audit or the city's books, it would be difficult for him to say what needs to be done.
"There's no way I could say specifically that we need to take this line item and decrease it and increase that line item because I don't know what their basis for putting those in originally was, nor do I know why they actually amended it further down the road," Agresta said. "But, I know one thing, everyone has to be willing to cut back somehow."
Both candidates said upon entering office, Mitchell's help would be appreciated. However, Agresta said that after a while, he would become redundant.
"In the long run, they hired him because there was no controller," Agresta said. "I can't see, going down the road, that we would want to keep him. If I'm not doing the job, I shouldn't be there and neither should he."
Collins said she's not looking to fire anyone.
"You need him," Collins said. "I was very surprised that they didn't have chief accountants, which you need. If the controller is gone, the office still has to run. And that's not what happened. Ron passed away, everything stopped. It should never stop. I'm not firing Mr. Mitchell. He is certainly an asset to the controller's office.
Also up for vote on Nov. 5 is a referendum that decides who has involvement in the budget voting process.
During a special June election, Amsterdam voters decided against the mayor appointing the city controller and involving that person, and the mayor, in budgetary voting. This election, the budget measure has been secluded to its own referendum and will appear on ballots.
Both candidates said they wouldn't mind if the power was taken away from them or if it was still one of their responsibilities.