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County Legislature Poised to Appoint Interim Comptroller

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County lawmakers Monday questioned their choice for the comptroller's position, Orchard Park Republican James Hartman.

Lawmakers Tuesday are expected to appoint Hartman as the replacement for Nancy Naples. She is stepping down next week after a blistering budget battle.

On the eve of his appointment, members of the Finance and Management Committee praised Hartman's resume and his philosophy. But they also wanted to know how he plans to deal with warring lawmakers -- while also working to balance the budget. Hartman says, as an interim, he'll be uniquely qualified to tell it like it is.

"Normally, a comptroller would say the budget needs to be balanced...would not tell the Executive and Legislature how to do that," said Hartman. "But, I am not a normal comptroller, this is not a normal situation and that is why, for instance, I'm prepared, at this point, to say that new taxes are going to have to be part of the permanent solution."

But Hartman believes he can deliver those tough love messages in civil tones. Hartman, wants to lower the decibel level and work quickly to satisfy the incoming control board. That will mean coming up with a four year-plan by October that everyone agrees to. Hartman was once a staffer for the New York City Control Board. Still, the task in Erie County may not be easy. Budget Director Joe Passafiume again yesterday defended his numbers.

"The budget monitoring report for '05 to date, based on the current trends, is certainly not something that should be characterized as good news," said Passafiume. "But it should be identified as a working document that is giving us a good indication of where we are."

According to Passafiume's report, where we are is $80 million in debt by year's end. The State Comptroller says it's $118 million.

Numbers aside, not everyone even agrees there should be an interim comptroller. Minority Leader Michael Ranzenhoher says the $50,000 salary could be better spent elsewhere. Hartman's appointment tomorrow will run through December.