The attempt by the county executive to trim the budget for the county Comptroller’s Office has a familiar ring to it.
Back in 2010, then-County Executive Chris Collins took an ax to then-County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz’s budget, zapping numerous auditor and tax receiving staffers. Poloncarz filed a lawsuit charging that the county executive violated the county charter by trying to slash more than a third of the comptroller’s staff.
Poloncarz worked hard to restore the jobs, even making a request to the county control board to fund those positions so that the Comptroller’s Office could maintain its necessary controls and functions. While what occurred a couple of years ago under Collins was a scorched-earth campaign compared to this year’s surgical strike on a single high-level job in the office, it seems disingenuous for Poloncarz, now that he is the county executive, to imply that the level of staffing he fought for while comptroller is no longer necessary.
There remains a strong argument, as there was back in 2010, that only the County Legislature, not the county executive, can modify the budget requests of the county’s independently elected officials. Some legislators are questioning Poloncarz’s recent request to reduce the comptroller’s staff.
The position in question happens to be held by Gregory Gach, who, as budget director for Collins, helped craft the plan to slash Poloncarz’s staff. Gach had worked for Poloncarz before leaving for Collins’ staff.
Gach has worked in various financial positions in county government since 1985, and currently holds the title of director of grant accounting services in the Comptroller’s Office. The job was his old civil service position in the Comptroller’s Office.
It was also the job Robert Keating held before Poloncarz brought him on to become the county budget director. So, after Poloncarz was elected county executive, Gach and Keating essentially traded places.
And then Poloncarz’s budget for 2013 cut the grant accounting services position, which consists of checking and filing for reimbursements on grants and ensuring compliance. Gach is responsible for a myriad of duties within the Comptroller’s Office.
Those vital duties involving tracking millions of dollars in grants to the county must still be performed. Moreover, the change in command of the Comptroller’s Office will elevate the importance of the grants position, at least for now, with the new comptroller short on government and financial experience.
Former TV news reporter Stefan Mychajliw defeated Democratic incumbent David Shenk for comptroller two weeks ago. Shenk was appointed by the Legislature in February to fill the seat vacated when Poloncarz became county executive. Shenk leaves office arguing in favor of keeping the grants services accounting position.
Still, shed no tears for Gach. He has served in a number of top positions in the county and Mychajliw should consider keeping him on somewhere if the grants position is eliminated. But this story is bigger than just the elimination of one position.
The Comptroller’s Office serves as a watchdog over county government. That ability shouldn’t be diminished, especially when it has the appearance of trying to settle an old score. The argument for a fully staffed Comptroller’s Office is just as valid now as it was a couple of years ago.