A City, A State, A Nation Face Financial Challenges

Nearly six months into the budget year, citizen financial scrutineer John Marshall Lee asked the City Council a series of questions to consider Monday night. Are they paying attention to the small and large print? From Lee:

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Bridgeport City Council, I was absent from forum during the month of November. I took time to read, research and reflect in more detail where we may be today as a City with serious fiscal problems, in a State facing the same issues and in the country of my birth where at this moment we do not have a good handle on where we are presently and fully accurately much less where we are headed.

For Thanksgiving I prepared a message on the topic of what it may mean in the world today to be a “good citizen.” Before leaving my office this afternoon, I sent a copy of that article to each of you in the hope that you will read it. Perhaps you will share the ideas contained if you think them worthwhile. Will you let me know your thoughts if you sense we are in disagreement?

December is the month of the year when you will see a listing of the “year in review.” Calendar year 2016 will be special in that regard for the many changes worldwide. Locally it has been Mayor Ganim’s first complete 12 months with his “second chance” term. Most memorable at this location were the number of people who came out from all parts of the City due to the higher tax notices that were unexpected based on campaign rhetoric. Taxes will be remembered at election time 11 months from now.

Are you reading the monthly financial report to see how revenues and expenses are projected and working out? We are in the sixth month of the Fiscal Year but the results through four months just hit your desks. How will you explain the significant reserves you agreed to budget to increase city fund balances (hopefully) at year end, or the level of pension contributions for underfunded plans while ignoring the cries on the education budget? Building reserves does not register with voters the way the school budget necessary cuts in their operating budget have.

The Police Department budget is “phony” because of bloat beyond this year. Ken Flatto has done a good job of preparing some notes, but the 29 new members of the force in 2016 and the new class of 23 just sworn in does not add up to the 100 promised. And members of the Department still are retiring. Is a bigger solution necessary? What public goal will serve to show that management has a handle on the issue? One hundred more in a year was not honest. Are there other solid public safety initiatives that might be pursued to eliminate the serious overtime payments necessary that create an even greater City pension obligation that is already underfunded?

One year ago $950,000 disappeared from the Office of Planning and Economic Development Capital budget without approval by you, or a review and approval at any level. It seems to have gone to the Port Authority, a quasi-public entity, to pay off debt they incurred ten years previously. Why? The PA is located in City Hall and the City managers have taken in the revenues and paid the bills of that group for the past nine years, but there is no available fiscal record of annual reports for you to review since an auditor reported in December 2008. Outrageous, I suggest. A real failure in governance and we stand here tonight one year later with no announced consequences or financial reporting. Why?

There are other areas of concern within the City that affect property owners and residents and harm them. How is it right to collect revenues from citizens or taxpayers and not report them as such in Department results? Who provides oversight in such instances? If a Department is allowed to report balanced or surplus actual budgets for years and evidence surfaces that actual expenses are higher than those reported, is it a problem if the annual variance expense is $100,000 or $150,000 or more? Should the external auditor catch such situations?

There are several private taxpaying citizens with expertise assisting me in the study of City financial reports. We have enjoyed the willingness of Finance and Office of Policy Management leadership to provide public information and comment. As For Sale signs spring up around the City and long-time neighbors find themselves driven out by property tax payments greater than fixed incomes, we need to work together for a better financial path. Can it be done? Time will tell.



  1. The Trump Administration (aka Federal Government) will be of no help. There will also be a domino effect with the State of Connecticut. If Joe Ganim was looking for extra ($) help, his timing is awful.

    1. Frank,
      Thanks for commenting. Look at the next article on the Interim Superintendent appointment. A dozen or more entries, but when it comes to City finance, slim pickings in terms of comments or sources of revenue.

      Vallas entered the scene with teacher layoffs and an $18 Million revenue shortfall. He dealt with the fiscal side of it and left a five-year plan to maintain the system.
      Finances were not Fran Rabinowitz’ major issue but they will be for her successor. But where are the advocates to the Council and to the public to keep them aware?
      By the way, what do just plain folks on a fixed income do when taxes rise?
      ## Some call it quits finally and call a realtor. Time to cash in whatever chips of value are on the table.
      ## Others cut back on personal items that provide quality of life satisfaction and transfer money from saved capital to pay the property tax.
      $$ Some may look to earn more, somehow, someway even when you are over 75? Because their capital or savings are gone?
      ## $$ And all of them will have examined their expenses, forwards and backwards, cutting here and there or looking for added justification for continuing that item and its expense. But where does that happen in the City? Whose job is it to do that? When have you watched news stories or photo ops when the message was efficiency? Getting more for our money? Finding we can do with a little less in an area than we are used to? Who will assist in being a Watchdog with a Whistle? Blow the whistle when you see the City spending dollars where they should not? Ganim2 ran on Open, Accountable and Transparent (we initially assumed Honest as well) but now we cannot even discover his home address, assuming he has one in Bridgeport. Who will don a whistle and a subject area with me? Time will tell.

      1. JML, you are absolutely right. Many implications moving forward starting January 20, 2017. The people of Bridgeport remain silent. (Mr. Ron Mackey wants me to define “the population” of Bridgeport.) Any attempt at citywide organization towards a Better Bridgeport is stillborn. The “holi-daze” are a tough time to organize. Things need to happen starting in January 2017 to affect City Council Election (primaries etc.) for the CC elections in November 2017. Do the People of Bridgeport have any interest whatsoever???

  2. “…As For Sale signs spring up around the City and long-time neighbors find themselves driven out by property tax payments greater than fixed incomes, we need to work together for a better financial path. Can it be done? Time will tell.”

    The present City Hall solution to our budget woes are 1. RAISE TAXES. 2. IMPOSITION OF PARKING-VIOLATION FINES (not so much with traffic safety enforcement, because that’s too much work and the $ has to split with the state. Parking violations can be fudged and are an easy mark, just like raising taxes and WPCA fees). 3. TAX-NEGATIVE, REGIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE. Take any and all of the “regional,” obtrusive, environmentally contraindicated, and tax-base devaluing “development” no other town in SW CT will accommodate, and chalk it up to grand list building, even as it drives high-value development away and costs residential taxpayers money to accommodate (e.g., road-munching, neighborhood-destroying waste processing/storage depots; waterfront-devaluing, polluting, dangerous, obtrusive coal-/gas-/diesel-fired power plants/storage facilities.)
    4. HOUSING AND CHARTER SCHOOL/REGIONAL MAGNET SCHOOL PROJECTS. Take state-facilitated- project $ that can be “floated” around the budget to temporarily plug holes and inflate budget numbers. 5. SELL OFF ASSETS AND PARKLAND. Sell parkland to service-stealing, neighborhood-destroying “universities” and “connected” developers. Sell rare airport-zoned property to “connected” developers. 5. RAISE TAXES.

    One Bridgeport Administration is as full of BS as the next. We should just apply for designation as a nuclear waste/Haz-Mat storage site and get it over with. No! We shouldn’t do that! I forgot, we have BASS PRO and soon we’ll have a MOTEL 6 and luxury, X-RATED THEATER with a bar!! (And who knows how great life could be in Bridgeport if we could just get Dan Malloy and the CGA to pass the wholesale legalization of gambling and prostitution, which are already legal and openly practiced in Hartford.)


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