Remember the yearly news releases touting fake budget surpluses in fiscally strapped Nassau?
The practice is going by the boards, Jack Schnirman, the county’s new comptroller, said in an interview Wednesday. “If you want to look at the totality of the county’s finances, you can’t smile and whistle a happy tune if you are balancing your budget on borrowed money,” Schnirman said.
As a result, his office intends to use generally accepted accounting principles, commonly referred to as GAAP, to determine whether Nassau is running a surplus or a deficit — rather than take the politically expedient way out by adhering to the county charter, which allows borrowed money to be counted as revenue.
The change, finally, would give residents one way to determine where county finances stand, and by extension, how elected officials are progressing toward resolving the county’s fiscal crisis — which has persisted, in some form or fashion, for more than a decade.
“The goal is not to piecemeal each year’s budget with bubble gum and duct tape,” Schnirman said. “The goal is to drive toward structural balance and when you strip away one shots and borrowing . . . [using the GAAP standard] is where we need to be.
Fresh into his term, Schnirman’s already reshaping the office into what he believes a comptroller’s office should be.
He’s hired an investigator.
He’s announced his intent to audit nepotism.
He’s also encouraged Nassau residents to aid his office’s efforts at digging into that and other areas by emailing tips to ReportItReformIt@nassaucountyny.gov.
Schnirman, a Democrat, is the former Long Beach city manager, a post from which he helped oversee the city’s superstorm Sandy recovery. He also at one time worked in Brookhaven.
All of which — since he didn’t rise through the traditional Nassau Democratic Party ranks — likely makes it easier for his office to maintain the independence Schnirman touted Tuesday during his inauguration.
Schnirman said his office needs to beef up an auditing staff that is half the size it’s been in prior years. In addition, Schnirman said he was stunned to find out that some of the auditors charged with reviewing contracts and rooting out corruption earned $24,000 a year.
“It’s no wonder we’ve got a corruption problem here, the good guys are outgunned,” he said. “If we are going to fight corruption, if we are going to find the kind of waste and inefficiency that’s going to recoup moneys for Nassau County residents, we need to be armed with auditors to do so,” he said.
For that, however, Schnirman will need funding. And for that, the comptroller’s office will require support from the county’s Republican-majority legislature — whose presiding officer, Richard Nicolello of New Hyde Park, attended Tuesday’s ceremony — even though another Democrat, Laura Curran, is county executive.
Before taking office, Schnirman invited the staff of former Comptroller George Maragos — a Republican turned Democrat whose appointees mostly were Republicans — to apply for jobs.
“My folks met with them and were sort of puzzled that when they asked the sort of proverbial question of ‘What do you do here?’ The answer, overwhelmingly, was ‘I do outreach.’ ‘What else do you do?’ ‘I do outreach’ — which was a nice polite way of saying it was all politics,” Schnirman said.
“We are taking a different approach to what our priorities are,” he said.