The Controller’s office in the City of Amsterdam has seen it’s share of troubles over the past few years. With a problematic transition to a new accounting system in 2011, and the tragic passing of Ron Wierzbicki while he held the office in 2012, the city fell behind with its required reports to NY State. An audit by the state’s comptroller’s office released in 2013 showed that bank reconciliations had not been completed accurately, and also revealed a host of other deficiencies in the city’s accounting procedures.
After winning a special election in November 2013, Matthew Agresta took the reigns of the office in January 2014. Now he is up for re-election to a full four-year term this November.
“We’ve accomplished a lot, but there’s still more that needs to be done,” said Agresta in an interview last week.
Agresta cited the ongoing reconciliation work which allowed for the successful filing of the state-required Annual Update Documents for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 as the most important achievements for his office in the past two years. According to Agresta, work on the 2013-2104 AUD is approximately 98% completed and expects to be able to file it soon. Once that document is completed, a full third-party audit of the city books from 2013 to 2014 can begin.
The foreclosure of properties with delinquent taxes was another long-overdue project that Agresta tackled. According to Agresta, the foreclosure process had not been run in several years, and therefore resulted in a list of approximately 600 delinquent properties. Without all the bank reconciliation work completed yet, Agresta said he could not use the KVS system to automatically generate a list of properties.
“We had to do this one manually…and it took an exorbitant amount of time for a lot of people here to get that list compiled to the point where we could actually file it and move forward with the foreclosure,” said Agresta.
While the foreclosure process is not fully completed yet, the steps are well underway. Earlier in the year, the controller’s office sent notification letters to owners of properties on the list, which resulted in approximately $650,000 in back taxes collected. After that, the office sent out hundreds of certified letters to all lien-holders and owners for any property on the list that had not yet either paid their taxes or set up a payment plan. The next step is for the city to take possession of any property that remains delinquent and then auction them off.
Following the directives of the city’s corrective action plan, which was drafted by the mayor and common council in 2013 in response to the state audit, has been another priority for Agresta.
“We’re much more timely, accurate and complete with both capital and operating expenses than we were when this plan was voted on,” said Agresta. “One of the things that I did when we got here, was to separate the capital projects funds entirely from the city’s operating funds.”
Agresta said this step was necessary to minimize the chance of co-mingling capital funds and operating funds, which was one of the problems cited in the state’s audit. Agresta also said he set up a separate account for the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course in order to better track transfers from the general fund to the golf course fund and vice-versa.
Agresta also said he has acquired training for himself and staff members on the city’s KVS accounting system to increase their understanding and improve their efficiency.
While Agresta worked with outside accounting firms to help with the reconciliation work earlier in his term, he said, “I don’t see a need for more staff on a regular basis. But, I think all of the staff, including myself, can always be trying to better ourselves at our jobs.”
Keeping the Common Council up-to-date on the city’s finances has also been a priority.
“Every month I give them a printout of the expenses that we’ve accrued for the year and the revenues that we’ve received for the year,” explained Agresta. “In those reports it shows each line – line-by-line – the amount that they originally budgeted, what’s been expended so far, what’s remaining, and they do it in dollar amounts and percentage amounts.”
“It’s easy for the council to look at and formulate questions if they so choose,” added Agresta. “They are made aware each month of the position of the budget, both revenue and expense-wise.”
Once the reconciliation work is complete, Agresta said that he would like to utilize more of the features offered by the KVS accounting system such as automating the generation of the annual AUD and the foreclosure lists.
“I’d like to have the ability to make the system work the way it was originally intended when it was purchased,” said Agresta.
One of the other features that the KVS system offers which has yet to be implemented is to store scanned images of invoices, purchase orders, forms, and other documents along with financial transactions.
“For any entry you make…you can attach any backup documents to that,” explained Agresta. “So ten years from now if someone wants to know why we moved $50,000 from here to there, you’d be able to see the resolution backing it up, or whatever the authorizing document behind it was. It would be readily available to you. You wouldn’t have to go digging through the basement…for four hours and wasting your time.”
Agresta said that running the foreclosure every year would also be a priority in his second term.
“A big thing we have to do every year is a foreclosure,” said Agresta. “People need to know that it’s not something the city is going to let fall by the wayside anymore. And I think you’ll see if we can do a couple in a row here for a few years, you’re going to have a lot less people trying to skirt the system.”
Agresta is a life-long resident of the city and a graduate of Amsterdam High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and marketing in 2006 and another bachelor’s degree in international relations in 2010, both from SUNY Albany.
When asked about why he chose to put down roots and raise a family in the city, he said, “I’ve lived here my entire life. I’ve never really wanted to go anywhere else. I had a good upbringing here. Friends and family who have been here for generations who are still here. With everything that people say is bad about our community, there’s still a lot that’s good. There’s still a lot of people who care.”
Agresta said he tries to keep political arguments out of his job, only offering an opinion to the mayor or council on an issue if he has factual numbers to back it up.
“I don’t have to play politics. I don’t need to curry favor to get votes from one side or the other. I can say these are the facts, whether you like them or you don’t. And you make a decision based on that,” said Agresta. “I think that this office should always be that way. There shouldn’t be any politics involved in this office.”
Agresta is running on the Republican Party line and will face challenger Alexander “Rogo” Roginski on the Conservative Party line and the independent “Rogo for Controller” line this November. Visit Agresta’s Facebook page here.