A Bruising Budget, Plus: Begging Joe McGee And CT Economic News

The mayor who promised a $600 tax cut when he was a candidate for office has decided to raise his taxes (and yours) $600. How prophetic. Ouch.

The nearly half-billion-dollar budget that Mayor Bill Finch unveiled, as noted previously here in posts and comments for weeks, isn’t pretty. Lots of layoffs, union concessions, library and health clinic cuts part of the picture just to keep the mil rate increase from going above four mils. The library system looks like it will take the biggest hit.

The mayor has placed blame on his predecessor John Fabrizi for passing an election-year budget loaded with one-shot revenues. Finch says the budget process was appalling for city bean counters because they had to untangle the mess of the Fabrizi budget. Finch didn’t tell you, of course, that the people that built Fabrizi’s final budget are the same people that built Finch’s first budget. The only appreciable addition to the process was Andy Nunn, Finch’s chief administrative officer.

City Council President Tom McCarthy told OIB this morning that he had not yet seen the final budget document but that he will be reviewing it before it’s officially presented to the council on Monday for referral to the budget committee.

“The council will do everything possible to limit the budget impact,” said McCarthy. “Everything’s on the table. We must get the most out of the least. We’ll go through every department. We will do everything we can to make sure the taxpayers pay the least.”

One of the big issues the city (and other towns) face, according to McCarthy, is coping with the fallout of predatory lending practices that has the potential to lead to thousands of loan defaults and the prospects of additional tax-revenue losses.

Will the council look at Finch’s sacred cows such as immediate staff and political hirings?

The final budget impact on the city’s school system is also an open question. There’s a movement in Hartford to try to secure funding for a full forensic audit of a budget that’s more than $200 million.

McGee’s Advice

Joe McGee, the volunteer advisor that Mayor Bill Finch selected to help redefine the city’ economic development office, knows a lot about big projects and big egos.

McGee was the vice president who supervised the construction of Bridgeport Center and with it the remarkable job of dealing with renowned architect Richard Meier whose religion of white stamped a distinctive look on the corporate headquarters of People’s Bank.

McGee, who also served as the top economic development official under former Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker, probably knows the infrastructure of downtown Bridgeport better than anyone on the planet. Putting up a modern building in an old city, in addition to working through the city’s archaic land-use approval process, will do that.

The vice president for The Business Council of Fairfield County co-chaired a committee that issued recommendations for growing the city’s tax base. Part of the problem, McGee pointed out, is lack of staff in a revenue-generating department. Hartford, for instance, has three times the economic development bodies of the state’s largest city.

The city has essentially operated for four months without a director of economic development. Finch wanted to revamp the department before bringing in his own person. Hopefully, the business-friendly recommendations of McGee and co-chair Reggie Walker, who formerly worked in the city’s development office, will poise the city in the right direction. Some of those recommendations include the hiring of a new urban design reviewer for land-use boards to provide adequate review of all applications, expediting building permits, increasing permit fees associated with major commercial construction and creating an Office of Neighborhood Development overseeing neighborhood planning.

Here’s my suggestion — beg the Business Council of Fairfield County to loan McGee to the city for a year, or two, or three (am I asking too much?), or pay McGee what he wants to stick around and see this stuff through. C’mon Joe, that commute from Fairfield to Stamford has got to be a drag! C’mon back to Bridgeport, Joe! Ah, wishful thinking.

News release from CT Secretary of the State

Connecticut Businesses Folding at Record Pace
Bysiewicz says: 1st quarter numbers indicate economic trouble for Connecticut
Hartford: On the same day Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned Congress that the economy may shrink over the first half of this year; Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz reported that Connecticut witnessed a record number of business stops – 2,752 – for the first quarter (January-March) of 2008. This figure represents the highest number of stops for the first quarter period since at least 2000. The March 2008 business stops represent the highest single month for 2008 at 1,107.

Connecticut’s economic future looks even cloudier when comparing economic quarters by year. For example, 2008 business starts for the 1st quarter are at their lowest level – 7,761 – since the 1st quarter of 2003 when it was 7,108. The March 2008 business starts are the lowest recorded for 2008 at 2,436.

“Connecticut businesses are clearly struggling to stay afloat as the national and state economy continues to see a major decline,” said Secretary Bysiewicz. “Small business owners and others continue to grapple with the costs of doing business given escalating energy prices, the credit crunch, and health care costs. Particularly during the last few weeks of the legislative session, we must do all we can to provide support to the business community to stem the tide. That is why I have been a strong advocate of repealing the business entity tax and opening up the state employee health care plan to small businesses.”

After a review of the Secretary’s report, Don Klepper-Smith, Chief Economist and Director of Research for DataCore Partners LLC of New Haven stated, “The data on starts suggests that the Connecticut economy is starting to feel the effects of a national recession, which probably began late last year. Business starts are an important gauge because they speak to not only business confidence, but job creation and investment as well. The severity of the national recession is clearly going to impact us through the remainder of the year. I expect further erosion in business starts, and a rise in business failures.”

According to Dr. Steven P. Lanza, Executive Editor of “The Connecticut Economy Quarterly”, Bysiewicz’s report indicates that, “The sharp drop in business starts, and the accompanying rise in business stops, is further evidence that the recession storm clouds gathering on the nation’s economic horizon stretch across Connecticut, too.

As the Chief Business Registrar for the State of Connecticut, Secretary Bysiewicz maintains a Small and Minority Business Services Unit through the Commercial Recording Division. The unit hosts several business development events throughout the year including two Business Showcases. To date the Showcases have helped more than 7,000 Connecticut businesses.

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28 comments

  1. To my friends and foes considering my past predictions regarding past events including town committee, jobs, and other things I was shocked to see that at least one perhaps a few thought I was joking about the budget !! I’m not as creative as Wells or Lennie !! But I do give the facts as I know them ! The other thing that bothered me SUNCAT which I normally agree with disagreimg and thinking its ok for FINCH to say HOOD – shit does he even know what a “hood” is ?? Its simply not acceptable for the top elected official to use esp. describing a place he’s elected to represent, enough said about that !!

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  2. Lennie you can beg Joe mccarthy all you want but todays announcement in the paper of impending tax hikes and layoffs is certainly not going to encourage developers to come to Bridgeport.
    We are going to lay off around 90-100 people and ask the unions for give backs. I dont see the unions giving back anything so that means more lay offs.Not Good.
    We are lying off health professionals and library staff yet we are still hiring political cronies. While these lay offs are taking place we are hiring a greeter for $39.000 and a part time clerk for $500 per week. How many more of these political pay offs are we hiring.
    Before we lay off library and health care staff lets get rid of the police department horse detail tha does absoultely nothing and cost us around $600,000 a year in salaries and upkeep. Lets take these 6 cops and put them back on the street where they belong.
    Lets fire Tom Sherwood the budget director as he was part of th problem that put togather the budget with the 16 million dollar ( I hope they pay us) budget,
    i also think we have to scale back the recomenations of the mcCarthy committee/

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  3. Good grief Wondering!!!

    You cant lower taxes without increasing the tax base. You can’t increase the tax base through economic development without staff.

    Bridgeport needs to make critical investments for the LONG TERM.

    If I’m wrong then Peppermint Patty is straight.

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  4. Good grief Charlie Brown!!!

    Bridgeport’s elected “leaders” DON”T KNOW HOW to make critical decisions and investments for the LONG TERM.

    Just look at what they’ve done year after year, then look at the results. Now we have a mayor who puts politically connected, city hall “greeters” higher on the list of budget priorities than libraries and learning. Give me a break! This is idiocy, plain and simple.

    These are not the type of decisions and initiatives that build confidence in the city’s future. These are not the type of decisions and initiatives that build confidence in the COMPETENCE of the team in charge. And these are not the type of actions that’ll change the perception of Bridgeport for investors or potential residents.

    But these ARE the type of decisions and initiatives that suggest that Bridgeporters better, to paraphrase Bette Davis, fasten their seat belts…it’s going to be a bumpy ride ahead!

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  5. Bridgeport has a lot of problems but Mayor Finch is NOT one of them. He made the hard and unpopular decisions that resulted in a balanced budget — that $16 million shortfall was waiting on The Mayor’s desk before he arrived! I hope he and Bridgeport bask in the sunshine of a better day.

    In 2008, Economic Development is about training people not attacting another losing CEO who’s willing to uproot his company is return for a tax break. OPICs or one-person internet companies develop families (OFIC) or singles into economic entities capable of making money. In the last 4 months things changed and now what’s worthwhile and easy for us is now difficult yet desired by them. I’m not here to explain Bridgeport’s advantages, I’m here to exploit them.

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  6. Let’s total up all of the compensation arrangements for the patronage appointments Moonbeam has made since taking over and compare it to the salaries of those who will lose their jobs as a result of Moonbeam’s “tough” economic decisions.

    Answer this please. Is it better to fire people who have been on the job for many years who have gained valuable experience and do their jobs effectively and efficiently OR is it better to hire and retain people whose only claim is political loyalty.

    I think Bridgeport has a lot more problems because we elected Finch as mayor.

    Remember….half of the people who voted for Finch in the general election, voted for the other guy in the primary.

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  7. A few things for openers.
    1) Get rid of the greeter in both City Hall and City Hall Annex. If we have to cut health care professionals then we have to cut excess fat like this.
    2) I am all in favor of getting rid of the mounted police. I had asked so many times in the past what were we spending in police overtime for this unit and no one would / could tell me. And now that we are looking at OT, remarkably I didn’t see them at all at either of the UConn women’s NCAA basketball games. If they are handing out tickets, fine. But when I see babes in bikinis posing with them at Seaside Park and the police can’t be bothered with cleaning up the horse-shit after them, well maybe it is time to put them out to stud.
    3) Let’s hire a Director of Economic Development and let him put forward his vision for his department in Bridgeport before we start hiring people to fill new positions. Let’s make sure that no one who sat on this committee gets a job with the city as a result of their work. And if we need to cut some fat in this department, start with the anti-blight area. I have had constituents complaining for three years about getting a garage torn down since it has already half collapsed. And still the city cannot get the job done.
    4) A Cultural Affairs Officer??? This is what the city needs to jump start economic development? Give me a break. This is a political plumb for somebody. Just keep an eye on this position to see who gets rewarded with this grandiose position.
    5) The city spent money on moving bodies all over creation, buying furniture, reconfiguring offices all in the name of speeding up the permit process. And now we need to hire more people. Last year we needed to hire more people because we had all of this work that was going to be required for Steel Point and Remington Shaver and Canyon Johnson. I have said before all we really need to do is to get to the virtual permitting process. Drop off the papers and allow for a developer to be able to track the progress over the internet. Find out what’s been approved and where the plans are in the process all from their computer at home or in the office. That is the biggest complaint I’ve heard. We moved the Fire Marshal’s office into City Hall and all of a sudden nobody knows where the fire marshals are.
    6) We raised the building permit fees a year or two ago to keep pace with the suburbs and now I am told by developers that what we are charging is more than any neighboring community. Let’s not try to raise revenues by discouraging development. Or this is part of the bigger shell game of where we bond for building permit fees for school construction to recognize the revenues right away. Could be just more gimmick accounting.
    7) Get rid of Tom Sherwood. If Mayor Finch says he inherited a bad budget then the OPM director is the architect of the financial planning document. And if the city must take such drastic steps why has the mayor waited so long to start? If we are closing health centers and laying off library staff to close a budget deficit why did the city wait so long to come to this conclusion? We could have been saving money already if anyone could make a decision in City Hall. And why did the city agree to take the state off of the hook for the bonding for Black Rock Library and place the burden on the city taxpayers if it will end up only being open a day or two a week. No long term planning what-so-ever takes place in this city.
    8) Everyone talks about the lack of a director of Economic Development and Public Facilities, what about Labor Relations? The last I heard was that both town committee members who are labor relations officers got big increases to divvy up his salary.
    9) I have some more positions to be eliminated in this city also. Maybe we can try to make sense out of why we have so many people in the City Attorney’s office if all we ever do is spend millions in outside legal fees.
    10) 10% increase in taxes. 10% cut in salaries for the mayor’s office and his entire cabinet. If the taxpayers have to feel the pain let’s make sure that we share the pain.

    And why is it that Mayor Finch sits down with the editorial board of the Connecticut Post to discuss such draconian budget actions before he even talks with the City Council. It looks as much about politics as it does about policy.

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  8. Like Caruso wouldn’t have appointed Bill Hennessey to the City Attorney’s Office, Bill Garrett to Economic Development, Joe Celli as Arts Tzar and Joe Celli’s mole to head the newly formed Department of Moles.

    Likewise you would have Jack Hennessy as the newly created Massage Tzar, Lisa Parziale as Registrar of Voters, David Vosburg as Assistant Dog Catcher and every other crazy, half-baked Kool-Aid drinkin’ Cuckoo for Caruso Puffs cult member like Yahooy finally gainfully employed–at the taxpayers expense.

    Well, I guess this set-up is cheaper than 24hr. psychiatric care …

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  9. Good Grief you little troll!!!

    A Cultural Affairs Officer is needed to combat brain drain in the city of Bridgeport.

    If you don’t think there is any brain drain in the city then I would respectfully like to point you towards the content of your posts.

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  10. You mean Testacrats are raising taxes for the unconnected and laying off library staff, but retaining party hacks on the city payroll? How could this be?!? Only in Bridgeport!

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  11. “McGee pointed out, is lack of staff in a revenue-generating department. Hartford, for instance, has three times the economic development bodies of the state’s largest city.” Lennie, why hasn’t McGee and the enitre Finch committee figured out that Hartford is three (18.5 square miles) times bigger than Bridgeport at 5 square miles. All major developments are within a mile from City Hall and with all the technology and resouces available, the city still can’t perform to its potential? Lennie, find another City the approximate size of Bridgeport and then compare them.

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  12. Bob Fredericks // Apr 2, 2008 at 1:44 pm
    You mean Testacrats are raising taxes for the unconnected and laying off library staff, but retaining party hacks on the city payroll? How could this be?!? Only in Bridgeport!
    You wrote the above. Where have you been? You don’t know the mayor and Testa are not working together and just went through a bitter battle, how do you figure this is Testa’s fault? The people who are getting jobs voted against Testa. Get it straight.

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  13. Maybe it’s just a lack of real-world experince but anyone who uses simple “headcount” comparisons as the basis for organization design and budgeting is being a bit naive.

    Getting maximum productivity (results) from a group of two or a department of two hundred, is more closely linked to setting the right objectives (knowing what has to get done, by when and with what resources) and hiring motivated people with exceptional credentials/capabilities, than with simply adding boxes to an organization chart.

    Forget the headcount comparison to Hartford, Stamford or any other city’s Economic Development Department. Start at the top and focus on getting the right leadership. Hire the smartest, the most experienced and highly motivated development executive we can find. Then convince him/her that the challenges facing Bridgeport are the career opportunity of a lifetime! Hire right… and the results will fall naturally into place.

    In November, I offered the Mayor help in identifying and recruiting exceptional talent for the city. Thirty years of experience managing global, organizational improvement and human capital initiatives provided a perspective I thought would benefit Bridgeport. Although the phone has yet to ring, here’s a free tip for the Mayor. As Lennie suggests, try to hire Joe McGee! He’s overqualified for the job, but that’s what Bridgeport needs.

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  14. Hey Wondering. Born and raised on the East Side, where I lived 25 years. In Black Rock the past 20 years. I know Bridgeport and I know my Bridgeport Democrats and I use the term generically. Seen one, seen ’em all. You must be on the payroll!

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  15. This is an OUTRAGE! How can Finch say that the libraries of our city are not important? My kids used the libraries in this city faithfully and my granddaughter now utilizes the library after school and on days off. Where else do these children have to go? The library is a safe haven for many of our inner city children. And school based health is SO important in poverty stricken Bridgeport. What is wrong with this Mayor? At least Fabrizi cared about books. The only books Finch seems to care about are his accounting books that he and staff are trying to cook. Why doesnt he ask all of his dept heads to take a 10 percent cut in pay or to give up their yearly raises or their vacation. Why is he trying to cut the little people? A week of vacation for a dept head or manager is 3 or 4 times the amount of these underpaid low level workers. Why is he laying off people on one hand and on the other hiring his buddies? This is SO WRONG. God does not like ugly.

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  16. good grief Charlie Brown –

    “A Cultural Affairs Officer is needed to combat brain drain in the city of Bridgeport.”

    how about keeping the libraries open?

    you are a rock

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  17. Bob Fredericks,
    “Hey Wondering. Born and raised on the East Side, where I lived 25 years. In Black Rock the past 20 years. I know Bridgeport and I know my Bridgeport Democrats and I use the term generically. Seen one, seen ‘em all. You must be on the payroll.”
    Let’s start by saying I am not on the payroll nor do I aspire to be on the payroll. This is a Democratic problem but Finch got here all by himself with no help from Testa. In fact Finch won’t talk or meet with Testa. We can blame the council, we can blame the Republican party for their lack of effort but more importantly we should blame the citizens of Bridgeport for their lack of interest at election time.

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  18. FedUpWithCityHall
    Need I remind you of Moonbeams comments on the
    place for “Comic Books” in Bpt. a few weeks back and you are
    suprised about the role libraries have the dark vision he has
    for our city.

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