Schnirman outlines busy future for comptroller’s office

The Island Now

Jack Schnirman has only been in office for three months, but the county comptroller hasn’t wasted any time getting comfortable.

In his brief time in office, he has begun a flurry of audits to fulfill his campaign promise of rooting out corruption and waste in Nassau County’s government.

“Do I like being comptroller? This stuff is fun,” Schnirman said about his first 80-odd days in office.

Among the organizations being audited are the county’s Industrial Development Agency, the Hempstead Animal Shelter, the Nassau County Bridge Authority, a living wage audit of vendors, and the Assessment grievance process, to name a few.

Over the past few years, the assessment grievance process has led to neighbors paying wildly different property taxes.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran recently kickstarted efforts to update the tax rolls in Nassau for the first time in years, while Schnirman audited the Assessment Review Commission to examine the grievance process.

“We want to see how it works, and who is getting what outcomes,” Schnirman said. “If you and I are grieving our taxes on our own, how are we being treated relative to these two guys with a law firm?”

One of his first audits was of the county IDA.

Schnirman said he had some concerns about Nassau’s IDA — namely, the county’s expenses per job gained were twice as much as Westchester County’s IDA and three times as much as Suffolk County’s IDA.

“It seems rather questionable that we make investments in public storage and car dealerships,” Schnirman said, referring to a loophole that Curran has since closed. “But I would say, with my auditor’s hat on, that we always go in with no preconceived notions, we just have a list of questions.”

He also said the IDA does not always do a cost-benefit analysis before approving a project, something that is a standard operating procedure in Suffolk.

To fight corruption, Schinrman said, his office would soon begin a nepotism audit. And in order to keep costs down for county taxpayers, he did say he would be open to looking into the Nassau County Police Department, which has many of the highest paid officers in the state, and other public employee unions.

“We’ve been in a control period for several years, we’re in a fiscal crisis, and all the labor contracts have expired,” he said. “This is the moment to ask all the questions, do all the analysis.”

To get these reforms implemented, Schnirman said he needs to persuade the public and government officials. He said he had a great relationship with Curran, but that his office needs to make it clear to county residents what his office is trying to do.

“Laura and I see eye-to-eye… and I won’t be shy about advocating for reforms,” he said. “But we have to educate people on what a comptroller does.”

One of the first things he learned in office was the technology was so out of date that the county had difficulty keeping track of how much money it had in the bank.

“All those different offices, the financial systems of the county are so antiquated that they are physically, or I should say technologically, incapable of talking to each other,” he said.

To fix this, Schnirman is working to install technology from PeopleSoft, which the county had already spent $40 million. He also said that the county needed to hire more auditors and pay them better in order to root out corruption.

“Those are the men and women who are going to go out and do the hard work of figuring out what is broken and how we fix it,” he said. “Their entry-level salary is $24,000. So who are you going to get for that amount, who will be your first line of defense against fraud and corruption?”