What Does the NYC Comptroller Do?

New York City voters will hire a new Comptroller who will serve as the “caretaker” for more than $300 billion in city money. Voters should pick someone knowledgeable and scrupulously honest to take on this massive job or series of jobs.

As the city’s chief financial officer, the Comptroller must make sure the city spends, saves, invests and borrows money wisely.

With a staff of about 750 employees, the Comptroller is elected every four years and now earns $209,000 a year.

Here are some of the tasks that voters should expect a Comptroller to do well.

First, the Comptroller must oversee the city’s budget (over $90 billion a year) and inform New Yorkers about how their city is doing financially.  Secondly, he or she is expected to audit every city agency at least once during the four-year term. The purpose of these investigations is to learn whether the city’s money is being spent wisely, fairly and lawfully.

The Comptroller is especially important to the city’s workers and over 300,000 retirees since part of the job is to help protect and invest $240 billion in city pension funds. The Comptroller also helps arrange for the sale of bonds to borrow for the city’s capital needs (school buildings, trucks, durables, etc) and keeps an eye on a wide variety of city bank accounts. 

The Comptroller reviews outside contracts for city work for integrity or conflicts of interest, but any objections to these contracts can be overruled by the city’s powerful Mayor. The Comptroller sets and enforces “prevailing wages”, usually union-level wages, on virtually any work done with city money.

The Comptroller can settle lawsuits against the city before they go to trial. The City pays out about $700 million a year in legal judgments and settlements. 

Over the years, Comptrollers have left the job to run for higher office. The present Comptroller, Scott Stringer, is now running for mayor, for example. The last city Comptroller elected Mayor was Abe Beame in 1974.