Shortly before the City Council voted to approve a budget to begin July 1, city fiscal scrutineer John Marshall Lee had several questions for the legislative body, including “how about hiring a full time fiscal watchdog reporting to Budget and Appropriations so that you may better exercise your important power in budget formation and oversight that the Charter calls you to perform?” From Lee:
Soon you will make the balance of your decisions that will affect taxpayers for 2018-19. My comments will come too late to assist tonight’s vote, but attention to them currently may prove of significant help for your 2019-20 Fiscal Year decisions one year from now.
I have reviewed the CAFR, this year’s budget and looked at some numbers from OPEN BUDGET the MUNIS based reporting system installed a year ago that purports to accuracy. Bridgeport spends $24,000 annually on that system we were told. Do you know how many “hits” this system is getting monthly or annually? Do the math, please. Is that system valuable to us? I have compared data on actual checks reported by this system and while data should be identical with MUNIS from other sources, why are as many as 30% of audited categories showing sums and totals in disagreement with the Actual Budget data reported elsewhere? Can you trust the numbers?
Comparisons of Actual Expenses from each of the past 4-5 years have indicated significant opportunity to question the rise of Budgeted Expenses in many departments that have crept in and stayed in. When you are not presented such data initially, it is unfair to fault your lack of understanding of differences between Actual and Budgeted later. Perhaps that is a procedure you might implement next year? Other cities have as many as 8 weeks to do their deliberations. Why don’t you make a plan right now to spend next March reviewing and comparing the Actual results from 2014 to 2019 and see what areas have overrun average increases, and then ask the departments for explanations? Waiting for the night when you may get a response though not a numerical justification may help you.
Trust the numbers provided to you, do you? Please turn to Revenue numbers for any monthly financial report from Finance since August, 2017 and go to Org. 01030 In Plant Printing. Those of you present last year may remember me reporting $800,000 of operating expenses actually, beyond what Finance was reporting to you, an average of $160,000 per year. I do not know who checked into the facts of the situation and budgeted Printing Department with only $10,000 revenue for the entire year, do you? Who recorded the July revenue of $6,557 and found no other revenue for the current year in monthly report after monthly report? I don’t trust the numbers. At a time when we cannot supply more necessary revenue to benefit the education of our youth, why do we maintain a Print Shop? Do yourself a favor with your budget analyst and get to the bottom of the real revenue flow, the real work produced and see if eliminating the department won’t free up at least a net $250,000 per year for priorities.
The bonding you approved to refund our bond portfolio this year was accomplished at a “present value increased expense” overall, rather than a savings as in recent years. It pushed back some debt payments into future years to allow the City some room to get to a balanced budget. But there was no PRIORITY or purpose emphasized by the Mayor that would countenance such restructuring, an overall poor practice. Debt service should proceed based on a schedule provided to you each year and not on an estimate. The same is true of the scores of accounts opened for each bonded project. Where is such a schedule? Where are current explanations? Or a quarterly report showing City progress to taxpayers?
Why does Lighthouse maintain a special fund of $600,000, from parent fees of past years? Maintained by the City when all such revenues are needed this year? Why is the fund kept as a hidden reserve?
And if I were to show you a way to cut Police Department OT by $2 Million to $5 Million, would that be of interest? Not easy but entirely possible when you begin to think holistically about City needs.
Finally, how about hiring a full time fiscal watchdog reporting to Budget and Appropriations so that you may better exercise your important power in budget formation and oversight that the Charter calls you to perform? Time will tell.