Controller’s race a choice of youth vs. experience

Voters in Amsterdam will choose between a veteran accountant and an aspiring politician when casting

Voters in Amsterdam will choose between a veteran accountant and an aspiring politician when casting a vote next month for a critical financial post in city government.

Matthew A. Agresta

OFFICE SOUGHT: Amsterdam controller

AGE: 27

BALLOT LINE: Republican

EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: B.S., finance and marketing, B.A., political science, University at Albany


The race for city controller, the position responsible for the city’s finances, pits Democrat Ronald G. Wierzbicki, a retired state accountant and auditor, against Matthew A. Agresta, a finance, marketing and political science graduate who spent time serving as Mayor Ann Thane’s confidential aide.

Ronald G. Wierzbicki

OFFICE SOUGHT: Amsterdam controller

BALLOT LINES: Democrat, Conservative

EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: B.S., business administration, accounting major, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette.

Retired. Former senior accountant, state Division of Housing and Community Renewal; former audit manager, state Department of Transportation; former consulting accountant.

PERSONAL: Married, six children, four stepchildren.

Wierzbicki, who has pored over financial figures for more than 30 years working as an accountant and auditor, said he’s been bothered by the way his hometown’s $25 million budget is developed and has decided to do something about it.

“It’s long past the time that residents of the community can tolerate errors of omission and commission. We need a professional in City Hall in that office, a professional accountant,” said Wierzbicki, who holds professional accreditation as a certified government financial manager.

With the city facing the state’s 2 percent cap on property tax increases while seeing reductions in revenues and a shrinking fund balance, Wierzbicki said new ways to raise money must be explored. These include selling tax liens to divest the city of costly, delinquent properties. Doing so also gives property owners a chance to make good on their taxes over a period of time, he said.

Exploring the option requires an “in-depth analysis,” but the time-consuming task of collecting back taxes should be left to a private firm, Wierzbicki said.

“I don’t think we should be in the, let’s call it the collection business.”

He suggests developing a comprehensive marketing package to bring in businesses and taking advantage of the city’s attributes, including plenty of available water and the proximity to major transportation arteries, such as the Thruway and the railroad.

“We need to sell the community,” he said. “I would like to think Amsterdam is not quite dead.”

Wierzbicki beat Manfred Phemister for the Democratic line on the ballot during the September primary. Agresta defeated incumbent Controller Heather Reynicke in the Republican primary.

Phemister will still be on the ballot, representing the Working Families party, but he’s stopped campaigning and is endorsing Wierzbicki.

Agresta, who served as confidential aide to Mayor Thane in 2008, said that position prompted him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science to give him the background to launch a political career. He said the idea of working with big numbers like the city’s $25 million budget isn’t daunting.

“Whatever the numbers are, it’s whether you know what to do with them,” said Agresta, who works as a direct support professional for Liberty, the Montgomery County ARC.

Agresta also carries the Daily Gazette newspaper, helping his father out with his route in the city.

Serving as controller, Agresta said, would give him the chance to make a difference.

“I see it as an opportunity to help turn things around. I want to stay in Amsterdam, I’d like to be able to raise a family here,” he said. If the city doesn’t turn things around, it’s going to be “a lot harder for people like myself to stay.”

One of his primary goals would be a search for spending cuts to reduce the city’s dependence on its dwindling fund balance, unspent money left over from previous years — reductions of any kind, big or small, would be important.

“Any step forward, I think, would be huge for the city,” Agresta said.

He said his work ethic and willingness to put in long hours are some of his strongest attributes.

“I know, given our current fiscal situation, the Controller’s Office is going to be a very busy place.”

Agresta said developing a good relationship with the Common Council is an important goal, as well. “For us to get anything accomplished we all have to work together,” he said.

Agresta said he doesn’t intend to make judgment calls on the political impact of cost-cutting ideas, but rather to present all ideas to the Common Council for budget development. “The controller’s job is to present the council with the best options available to them … whether they’re politically favorable or not, whether or not it’s popular or not,” he said.

The controller’s position comes with a $55,000 annual salary.

Categories: Schenectady County

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