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Nassau's new comptroller: I'll be 'hands-on'

As the newly elected Nassau County comptroller, Republican George Maragos said he expects to bring a more "hands-on" approach to the job than his Democratic predecessor, while simultaneously empowering his department heads to be more aggressive.

"We're going to look at every department in the government, at their practices and procedures - including financial ones - and their productivity and efficiency in delivering services to the public," said the former banker and finance manager. He added that his office will "quickly get to wherever there is waste and fraud."

Maragos said that, despite the high level of professionalism he found in the office, he felt that the former comptroller, Democrat Howard Weitzman, did not give his department heads full power to do their jobs.

"They were somewhat suppressed by the previous administration," he said. "I'm empowering them to become aggressive, not to pay any invoice that is not substantiated or where they are unconvinced a service was rendered and to follow up on previous audits where remedial action was not taken."

Weitzman, reached at his home, did not respond specifically. Instead, he said: "I think that the quality, quantity and complexity of the work we produced speaks for itself."

With new County Executive Edward Mangano, a fellow Republican, in the middle of trying to fix the troubled county tax assessment system on homes and businesses, Maragos said his office will help find a solution.

"I'm going to work with everybody who has knowledge and is in a position to help with the solution," said Maragos, 60, of the village of Russell Gardens on the Great Neck peninsula. "I will be persistent and drive the process, using all of the authority of the comptroller's office."

The Nassau County charter gives the officeholder broad, but vague, authority to get involved with any aspect of county operations or finances.

Michael Martino, spokesman for Mangano, said his boss "will obviously work with the comptroller in fixing the broken property assessment system. An initiative this big needs a full team effort."

Maragos said the key to reforming assessment is an accurate system of fair market valuation for properties. "If we can do that," Maragos said, "we'll solve the problem of the county's massive property tax refunds," that have been as much as $100 million a year.

The comptroller's more traditional role includes auditing and approving all bills, invoices, payrolls and other claims, demands or charges against the county, while determining their legality. He examines and approves all contracts, purchase orders and other documents by which the county incurs financial obligations. And he reports on the county's budget and spending.

Maragos said he hopes to help the county save up to $200 million a year - first with the fix of the assessment system and then through audits of county departments and their contractors.

"I've met with all departments, and their members are committed to work very hard to improve county government. I think the public will be pleased with the results of a more aggressive comptroller's office," he said.

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