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New Financial Stewards Face Mounting Challenges

Thursday was inauguration day for newly-elected Monroe County officials, including a new county auditor and treasurer.  But both Amy Gerstman and Cathy Smith face challenges they couldn’t have predicted when they ran for their offices.

Near the end of the election season, Monroe County Republicans attempted to tie public support for incoming treasurer Cathy Smith to that of her former boss, then-auditor Sandy Newmann.  Smith weathered that storm and claimed victory over Barbara Clark.  But in just the two months since her election, Smith has seen the county’s financial situation go from bad to worse, as a nationwide recession and shrinking property tax revenues were compounded by cuts to recycling funding from the legislature.  In a time when investment with Wall Street has led to billions of dollars in losses, Smith says she’ll try to keep county money closer to home.

“I think the priorities would be the highest return on investment and local investment if possible,” Smith said.

Gerstman also must deal with the problems left over from Sandy Newmann’s time as auditor, including fallout from the misappropriation of $350 thousand, which a special prosecutor called “grossly negligent”.  Newmann had claimed some of the financial mismanagement of which her office was accused was due to problems with computer software — problems Gerstman hopes will be cleared up by technicians due to arrive at her door in the coming days.

“We have a representative from Harris Software coming on [January 5th] to help us sort through some of our financial data,” Gerstman said.

Both Gerstman and Smith say they’ll spend their first few days in office just learning their jobs.  Gerstman says she’s talked to county council members about their ideas for new financial management practices, but declined to elaborate on the content of those talks.  Smith says she’ll try to stay positive in the face of tough economic times, and may ask people like Gerstman for financial counsel.

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