What does the NYC comptroller do? A look at the city’s chief financial officer

New York Elections
NYC comptroller Scott Stringer stands at a podium

Scott Stringer speaks during a primary debate for New York City comptroller on Aug. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, Pool, File)

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New York City residents will vote for more than just a new mayor in the June primaries and November general election. Also on the ballot: candidates for city comptroller.

The job title may not seem as glamorous as others in public service, but the comptroller plays an important role in government as the city’s chief financial officer. 

The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the city’s finances, making the position — and who holds it — all the more critical.

Current Comptroller Scott Stringer is term-limited and has joined a crowded field of Democrats who are running for mayor

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-District 3) announced his candidacy for comptroller on Tuesday. There are at least 10 other candidates running for the position, including City Councilman Brad Lander.

Regardless of who is elected, the next comptroller will take on the enormous task of safeguarding the city’s fiscal health during a time of severe financial struggle due to the pandemic while investigating and exposing wasteful spending and abuse within government.  

Here are some of the key functions of the New York City comptroller.

Agency performance and financial audits

An audit of every city agency is required at least once every four years. The comptroller’s audits also examine key City Hall initiatives such as affordable housing, public education, public benefits, and homeless services.

Oversight of the city’s budget and fiscal condition

It’s the comptroller’s responsibility to scrutinize the mayor’s fiscal budget and advise on potential developments that could affect the city’s fiscal outlook.

The comptroller’s office also prepares and releases a comprehensive annual report on the state of the city’s finances.

Reviewing city contracts

The comptroller’s office analyzes all city contracts to ensure accountability, transparency, and that there was no corruption in the vendor award process.

Control of public pensions

The city has five public pension funds totaling nearly $240 billion in assets, as of November 2020. The pensions provide retirement security for over 700,000 current and former city workers. 

The comptroller serves as the financial advisor and custodian of these assets, and is legally and ethically bound to act in the best interest of those who would benefit from the funds.

Resolving claims on behalf of and against NYC

As the city’s chief financial officer, the comptroller can settle claims against or on behalf of the city before a lawsuit is filed in court. They also have final settlement authority throughout the litigation process if money is involved.

Additionally, the comptroller’s office analyzes claims data to spot recurring problems that create liability and proposes reforms.

Issuing city bonds

The city has its own credit rating and debt levels, which need to be monitored by the comptroller’s office. This allows the comptroller to effectively issue and sell bonds needed to support the city’s capital plans related to affordable housing, environmental protection, transportation and other facets of government.

Determining wages and benefits for some city workers

Under state law, the comptroller is responsible for setting and enforcing hourly wages and benefits for certain employees on public works projects as well as building service employees on city contracts and certain properties that receive tax exemptions.

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