By ERIC TICHY
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
MAYVILLE - Inside her corner office at the Gerace Office Building, Susan Marsh looks up at her bare walls.
Chautauqua County Finance Director Susan Marsh
You can hardly blame her, though, for the lack of photos, certificates or other knick-knacks from home. As the new county finance director, Marsh hasn't had a whole lot of time to settle in.
On the job for two months, Marsh has been busy with getting the lay of the land - with the help of Kitty Crow, the county budget director, with whom she's been shadowing early on. It also means getting up to speed on everything that's going on, including a resolution within the legislature to fund a federal matching grant for the Chautauqua County Home.
That resolution would take $1.3 million out of the county's fund balance to fund an intergovernmental transfer. Big numbers for the new kid on the block.
So it's easy to understand the lack of home decor and personal momentos within her office.
"Well, I haven't had a whole lot of time in here," Marsh says. "I only got a few pictures up and I need to bring some more. Right now, I've just been so busy just learning everything there is."
Just for the record, Marsh has her degrees - one from Penn State for her undergraduate work and one from the University at Buffalo for her master's - and a photo of a dog that has since passed away. A plant that once occupied space there was moved due to its jungle-like stature.
Marsh also has a golf sculpture on a shelf, which bodes nicely with her 10-handicapped golf game and previous championships at Shorewood Country Club in Dunkirk. Thirteen straight championships, to be exact.
But when it comes to crunching the numbers at work, Marsh has some experience there, too.
"I spent 20 some years in public accounting," Marsh says, "and I decided I got that point where I wanted change; I just didn't want to do that anymore."
After eight "great" years within the private sector, Marsh was essentially let go after her company was bought out in 2010. And after a year of applying to jobs within the state, she happened to notice a help-wanted sign in Mayville's finance office.
"It was harder than I thought finding a job in this economy," she says. "And then this position became open and I said, 'You know what, I'm going to apply for it.'"
Listening to County Executive Greg Edwards, it's clear Marsh was the perfect fit for the job.
"In her previous positions she has also been effective for reorganizing, streamlining and strengthening financial operations to maximize performance and profitability, which will be an additional asset to our county operations," the county executive said in March.
"Susan is very familiar with financial management," Edwards added. "She has over 20 years of experience in financial reporting, analysis, forecasting, budgeting, cash management, auditing and controls for manufacturing, and accounting organizations."
Since then, Edwards has seen the benefits in a veteran number cruncher, none sooner than the day she started.
"She began almost simultaneously with end-of-the year audits and other audits," Edwards said. "That was immensely valuable to the county. She understands the process with her significant experience. She's been invaluable for us and a natural fit."
So, what's been the most challenging so far while on the job?
"Making sure I don't, how do I put this, do something politically suicidal," Marsh responds with a laugh. "Here there's a process to get things done."
Being "naive" to county government, Marsh says she wasn't always aware of the yearly deficits the county has recently run, and will run next year. But with an extensive background in business administration and auditing, she says she looks forward to beginning work on the 2013 county budget, which has already entered its preliminary stage.
"Did I know that accepting the job? No," she says of next year's projected deficit of $14 million. "I'm not that political and I've never been that political so this is a leap for me. I'm pretty much a black-and-white straight shooter."
Edwards said with Marsh and Crow in place, the county has a sure-fire combination to begin next year's budget. He added that having "fresh eyes" in the team helps, too.
"Kitty has done a great job designing and improving our budgeting process by involving new technologies," he said. "... The two of them are a like a dynamic duo, in my opinion."
When discussing her short-term goals in her new position, Marsh says she hopes to bridge any gaps in communication within the county, a move she hopes will create a streamlined office. She also hopes to work closely with the legislature and its committees to provide "all the necessary information" as fast as possible.
"I think my job should be to make sure we have accurate and timely financial information so the legislature can make informed decisions," she says. "And that's how I'm approaching this job. I don't have any agenda and I don't have any projects or any hidden things that I'm trying to accomplish. I just want them to know all the facts so they can make educated decisions."
Her other short-term goals, meanwhile, may be a little less involved.
"I'll have to bring in some more things for this office."