CARTHAGE — After serving 19 municipalities over the past 43 years, a local couple is closing the books. Mary Ann and James E. Yuhas have served in a variety of positions—consultant, village treasurer, clerk to municipal supervisor—for cities and towns in Jefferson County and Lewis County for more than four decades.
The couple are about to retire. In recent years they have reduced the number of municipalities they serve to three – the villages of Deferiet and Sackets Harbor and the town of Wilna. In December, at the end of Wilna’s fiscal year, the Yuhas withdrew from this municipality and will do the same with the villages at the end of May.
“We didn’t want to leave in the middle of the (tax) year,” Mr Yuhas said. “We wanted to leave the new person with the start of the new year.”
The accounting couple will work as consultants to show new people in each municipality the ropes.
The couple shared their career and family life working in tandem. The Yuhas met in 1981 during their careers in finance.
Mr. Yuhas, after earning an associate degree from Jefferson Community College, was working with John Luczycki CPA firm in Watertown when Ed Cosmic, Wilna City Supervisor, approached him about working part-time for the city in as a clerk. From there, Rutland City Supervisor Herman Zahn called on Mr. Yuhas’ financial services. Then other municipalities followed. Norma Honeyman, mayor of Sackets Harbour, hired Mr Yuhas in 1980, and John Pais, mayor of Deferiet, hired him in 1982.
“Those four men – Ed Cosmic, Herman Zahn, Norm Honeyman at Sackets Harbor and John Pais at Deferiet really got me started,” Mr. Yuhas said.
“Jim was hired on December 10, 1980, by Mayor Norman Honeyman, who was also one of Jim’s accounting professors at Jefferson Community College,” said Barbara Boulton, Deputy Mayor of Sackets Harbor. “He obviously saw great potential in Jim and the village of Sackets Harbor has benefited from that for 42 years with a great treasurer.”
Meanwhile, the future Mrs. Yuhas worked for KeyBank as a trainer of tellers and a bank auditor. As the two moved around the area, they often met at the bank.
The couple married in 1986 and a few years later, when they started a family, Ms. Yu quit her job to stay home with their children. Then in 1991, she joined her husband in business.
Mr. Yuhas said they had never submitted resumes for any jobs, but were hired by word of the month.
“Word of Jim’s municipal accounting spread and he became treasurer for many municipalities in the area,” Ms. Boulton said.
The two worked closely with each other and with the mayors, overseers, clerks and department heads of the municipalities that employed them.
“Jim likes the spotlight,” Ms. Yuhas said, explaining that her husband attends the majority of meetings, while she works in the background. “He goes out, collects the bills and deposits the deposits.”
“She’s the nuts and bolts,” Mr. Yuhas said. “Mary Ann’s expertise involved technology. Between the two of us, we made it work.
Although he admitted it was sometimes difficult, Mr Yuhas said the secret to working together was to “separate disagreements at work from personal life”.
The couple said they were lucky that the municipalities that used their services worked with them and accepted their systems.
“We were successful because none of the councils required us to set opening hours,” Yuhas said, which helped reduce each municipality’s expenses.
He said they used the concept of shared services long before it became a state initiative.
“We started using conceptual accounting in 1979, and what we learned from one (municipality) we applied to all of them,” Yuhas said. “In the 43 years, we were always fine-tuning our craft. We have a system that all department heads in every municipality have loved – otherwise it could throw a wrench in the system. We all worked together to make it work.
Mr. Yuhas is proud of the successful audits they have had over the years.
“We’ve had 107 state audits and nothing bad,” he said. “Bottom line there was never any missing money – all responsible.”
“Jim and Mary Ann are very humble and always thank the village/town councils they have worked with for making good decisions,” Ms Boulton said. “In all honesty, it was their excellent advice, wisdom and in-depth knowledge of finance that led these councils to make these decisions. They made us look good.
The deputy mayor of Sackets Harbor added that thanks to Mr Yuhas’ advice, the village refinanced the water treatment plant loan in 2015, saving taxpayers $1,000,000 in interest charges and in 2012 paid off an earlier sewer project with $300,000 saved. As a go-ahead, Mr Yuhas presented the Sackets Harbor board with the option of paying off another sewer project in early July, which will save ratepayers $40,000.
Mr Yuhas said one of the toughest projects they had faced was the joint $4 million water project for Deferiet and Herrings.
“It was unique – a 12-year capital project,” he said.
According to Mr Yuhas, the state supported the project because the municipalities worked together to provide a new water system for Herrings and a new water tower in Deferiet. The cooperation resulted in $1.3 million in grants. Without these funds, the municipalities would have had to double the water tariff to repay the loans.
Their employers said the Yuhas would be missed.
“They are two of the most knowledgeable people I have ever worked with and truly, their knowledge of municipal financial issues and regulations and their work ethic are insurmountable,” said Janet M. Zando, Mayor of Deferiet. “On behalf of former mayors, council members and our current council, we will miss them. Personally, they have been invaluable to me, but we all wish them a wonderful retirement.
“They’ve been a tremendous asset to the town of Wilna,” said town supervisor Paul H. Smith. “The council will miss their involvement.”
The supervisor added jokingly, “The town was incorporated in 1813 and Jim arrived soon after.”
“Jim and Mary Ann have always been very concerned about maintaining our village taxes,” Ms Boulton said. “They helped the board set an annual budget and taxes haven’t gone up for over 12 years. They have found ways to maximize services to our residents without passing on costs. They achieved these savings by applying for state or federal grants for municipal projects such as water and sewer treatment infrastructure, UV sanitation, and LED streetlights (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority). They are a big part of why Sackets Harbor is such a great place to live.
Municipalities take different paths to replace Yuhas.
At Sackets Harbour, the assistant clerk has worked with Mr Yuhas for two years and, according to Ms Boulton, “will most likely be appointed treasurer”. Donna Martel has been hired as Supervisor Clerk for the towns of Hounsfield and Champion. The City of Wilna has hired accounting firm North Country CPAs of Lowville. At Deferiet, Kris Ginger has been hired as treasurer.
The Yuhas will always be there to help facilitate their replacements in their new positions.
“Jim will remain as a consultant and will continue to work on our capital projects, namely our water intake project and our REDI projects,” the Deputy Mayor of Sackets Harbor said.
Mr Smith said the transition in the town of Wilna is going well with help from the Yuhas as needed.
“Their dedication to the city won’t just let them walk through the door,” he said.
“There is no book for municipal accounting — you learn by doing,” Yuhas said.
Being free from the day-to-day responsibilities of dealing with municipal finances will allow the couple to travel as they please without worrying about taking vacations between meetings or other commitments.
They have children and grandchildren in Tennessee and Florida and have more time to attend sporting events for their grandchildren who live nearby. Mr Yuhas said he will also be spending more time on the golf course and bowling.