County controller retires and reflects

“I THINK THE COUNTY IS MUCH BETTER OFF, financially stronger, and on the right track,” Ron Caponera said, comparing Columbia County now to how it was in 2010, when he became its first controller. Set to retire the last day of 2021, he spoke by phone December 17.

The county created the position of controller in 2010 and chose Mr. Caponera for the job because of his experience. At that time, he was controller of the Town of Colonie, in Albany County. Colonie has more people than Columbia County and a budget just as large. But Columbia County provides more services, Mr. Caponera observed.

Mr. Caponera said he also worked for 22 years in healthcare, including as controller of hospitals and nursing homes.

In Columbia County, he created and built a controller’s department, implemented a new accounting system, and “got the county in compliance with state regulations.” With County Treasurer P.J. Keeler, Jr. he created the Central Business Office (CBO), to save money by rationalizing “duplicative services.”

Mr. Caponera valued his partnership with Mr. Keeler.

Controllers and treasurers check and balance each other, he said. Basically, the controller handles accounts payable and audits, while the treasurer handles revenues and cash management.

Mr. Caponera said that he enjoyed working with management, staff and the Board of Supervisors and passing his experience along to others. “It’s a lot of fun when you know what to do and when people work together,” he said.

“Now the county is in a good financial position,” Mr. Caponera said proudly. “Twelve years ago it was not.” Specific results Mr. Caponera pointed out include:

•The last seven years, the county has had surpluses

•Four years ago, the state controller audited the county and “found nothing wrong!”

•The Kronos time system for employees

•The sale of Pine Haven nursing home. Mr. Caponera said his previous experience in healthcare finance helped with the transfer to private ownership. “And boy, that turned out to be the right decision! We would not have wanted to run a nursing home during Covid.”

The controller is appointed and reappointed by the Board of Supervisors every two years, and a December phone call to Mr. Caponera to ask about budget details found him already training his successor-designate, Jim Breig, recently the deputy budget director of Rensselaer.

Mr. Caponera summarized his advice for those who follow him as “just follow through what P.J. and I have built.”

In retirement, Mr. Caponera said, he plans to “enjoy the rest of my life.” He’s selling his house in Kinderhook and will divide his time between his Adirondack lake house in summer and a Florida place he hopes to find for the winter.

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