Budget Time In The City, Finch’s Reelection Challenge

Mayor Bill Finch and city bean counters are putting the finishing touches on a spending plan for submission to the City Council at its next regularly scheduled meeting April 7. That’s when co-chairs Sue Brannelly and Mike Marella, and other members of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, engage the next two months reviewing the budget, meet with department heads, make changes and vote it through to the full council for ratification. The budget year starts July 1. The real fiscal work is at the committee level. This is the penultimate election-year budget for Finch that could impact the challengers he faces next year in his quest for a third four-year term.

Tom Sherwood, director of the Office of Policy and Management (fancy term for budget director) is tasked with building a $500 million budget in Connecticut’s most populous city. Sherwood has been at this so long, the city seal is emblazoned on his forehead. Navigating Sherwood’s budget forest is an exercise in endurance. Every time a department head says hey, you can’t do that, Sherwood is there to say, yes we can and here’s why. If the mayor wants to duck a cranky department head about a budget question, he simply says, go talk to Sherwood. It’s the smooch of death.

Joe Ganim did it, John Fabrizi did it, Bill Finch does it now. Sherwood’s been working on the budget even before Ganim became mayor in 1991. Sherwood has mighty survival skills for a guy with no political godfather. That’s probably because he’s able to defend things mayors want included in the budget.

Municipal budgets are always a leap of faith because so much of it is based on calculations in the state budget. Taxpayers have received increases the past two years and could very well be hit again this year. Finch would like to hold the line on taxes this year, but the reality is if you hold the line this year you could shoot yourself in the foot in an election year when he especially must hold the line.

And that’s the challenge Finch has in this budget: how much more can he raise taxes without hitting the electorate’s breaking point.

Some of this depends on the work at the council committee level from Brannelly, Marella and others budget members Lydia Martinez, AmyMarie Vizzo-Paniccia, Trish Swain, Howard Austin and Denese Taylor-Moye.

In fact, this budget could be more crucial to Finch’s reelection fortune than next year.

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28 comments

  1. “Mayor Bill Finch and city bean counters are putting the finishing touches on a spending plan …”

    This is as far as a reader needs to read to conclude the City of Bridgeport is in BIG trouble. All they know how to do is tax and spend. What they call “saving” is shorting (they call it givebacks) the low-pay Bridgeport city employees living here and paying for the tax raises at the other end. Those making the top dollars go to their homes in the suburbs and pay their lower taxes. The other top earners who live in Bridgeport get raises to keep them happy and loyal. This is the Bill Finch and Sue Brannelly budget solution. Then there is Sherwood. Maybe they can get a low-interest loan from UI.

  2. This is where the voters of the city need to wake up.
    A businessman needs to be in charge of the city, one not named Timpanelli. The career pol days need to be over and a business-minded mayor put in charge. Someone who represents the fabric of the city and can pull us out of the death spiral.

  3. This city has been bankrupt since the 1970s. Go to the treasurer’s office and ask anyone who isn’t politically appointed. The appointees will lie as they are told to do.

  4. Why should we believe the budget committee will cut anyone’s budget? In the three years I have been following the Budget and Appropriations committee, they have not cut anyone’s budget. Someone please tell Howard Austin it would be nice if he attended a few meetings.
    I know Finch has not received all the givebacks from the unions he needed or stated he needed for last year’s budget so does that mean we are running at a deficit?
    Thanks to the FD for giving up without a fight but I realize you are looking for a big gift from Finch & Company, something along the lines of 24 hours on and 72 hours off.

    1. Is the Mayor going to get those givebacks??? The teachers just got an 8% raise. Last time they gave back all the big guys got a raise and with all the squawking Obama, Malloy and Finch made about the minimum wage, who is going to feel they should ‘give back?’ I mean, if all that living wage, slave wage, quality of life, the right to make enough to pay for your almost new, pre-owned BMW rhetoric applies to them, why shouldn’t it apply to us? It is just taxpayer money. It is not like that money belongs to anyone. All those rich people with their houses, they can afford it. Just the same as a guy with a McDonald’s franchise can. Taxpayers went out on a limb to better their lives and buy a house in the same way someone would to start a business. Now the government and BlackRockGuy can decide what you can and can’t afford.

      1. Talked to a taxpayer this morning. He is aware of what taxes have done to DAMPEN the appetite of new businesses coming to the City facing our Mil rate. It is a big factor. In fact for those who repeat Paul Timpanelli’s name as a “mover and shaker” (I only see that side when he is on stage with his historic group), the postponement of revaluation is a blessing to businesses whose personal property and/or land and real estate may not have decreased in value as much of Bridgeport’s residential real estate. Therefore a revaluation as of October 1, 2013 would have hurt businesses even more than many homeowners.

        However, taxpayers who live here as property owners have TWO serious issues that are connected. As the budget increases (with no serious attention as to priority of service, effectiveness, or efficiency of delivery, evaluations and benchmarks), the City presents and then gets Sherwood to “prevent” serious examination (assuming anyone would suggest such). Taxes rise and personal wealth diminishes as your home value decreases in an active market. Double whammy! Raise your voice with many neighbors … it is a big group that is aggrieved … taxpayers need to speak up, and they need to commit to voting for candidates who listen to them and actively change things to make City business efficient, effective and reflective of the public served, rather than “taxpayers at the service of those employed.” Time will tell.

      2. “The teachers just got an 8% raise …”

        Very true, BOE SPY. May I (sorry for that “I” Godiva2011) add the teachers’ union gave up to the detriment of everyone but the status quo the opportunity to take a majority of the Democratic Town Committee seats for an 8% increase. If you can’t beat them or don’t want to risk trying, join them.

    2. Andrew C Fardy, yes, the firefighters are looking for 24 hours on and 72 hours off, this is being pushed by those who do not live in Bridgeport, they don’t like the driving time it takes to get to Bridgeport. The problem with this change is how do you take vacation time and how they get paid for their vacation.

      1. They don’t like the time it takes to drive to Bridgeport, tough shit, quit or move back to Bridgeport. My source tells me they don’t like coming to Bridgeport at all.
        I still believe the test should be for Bridgeport residents only.
        Is the rule still 25 miles outside of Bridgeport is the max? If it is, so what, is that too far to drive for a $60k job with great benefits? Try finding that kind of job in the hillbilly towns they come from.

        1. Andrew C Fardy, think of that mindset taking Bridgeport tax dollars and they don’t live in Bridgeport or even want to be here. Andy, it is Mayor Finch, David Dunn and Chief Rooney who have fought against what you said, “I still believe the test should be for Bridgeport residents only.”

  5. We cannot get the council members who are city employees nor the council members who have relatives on the payroll to do their jobs and vote and ask questions about the budget. Why is that? It’s fear of losing one’s job and having no civil service protections.
    Before Fabrizi emasculated civil service, an employee had protection from harassment and was allowed free speech. Fabrizi who at one time was employee Rep on the civil service commission appointed an out-of-town person to head civil service. This person is still there and has participated along with David Dunn in the dismantling of the civil service protections for employees.
    Let me remind many of you people out there, civil service was created to keep the politicians in line as it relates to employees and their rights.
    Fabrizi and Finch have basically made this commission useless and it does not protect the worker’s right to free speech thus the fear of voting for what’s right rather than what the politicians want.
    It’s time for people out there in Bridgeport to take their heads out of the TV Guide and pay attention to what a select few are doing to it.

  6. Budget time coming up!!! Taxes going up everywhere, right? Fixed costs because of union contracts (the implications of which are not revealed to the public). Money from the State always in question (but by the time you add all those flows it will be over $200 Million for Education side and City side.
    I just took a look at B&A activity during the past year as revealed in MINUTES. BY THE WAY, WHEN THE COMMITTEE MARKS AN EXHIBIT FOR INCLUSION, WHY ARE THE EXHIBITS NOT PART OF THE PUBLIC MINUTES?
    Where is the serious commitment to review the monthly financial reports? It is not showing up.
    Where is the recorded discussion regarding professional assistance for B&A (and perhaps for other Council committees that need to look at all sides of a question, rather then settle for what City Attorney says is “the last word?”

    To both males and females elected to the City Council, it is well known hormonal activity is part of the human ability to stand up for yourself or others when threatened. If we use “testosterone” as an example of one form of ability to stand up for or resist aggressors, then there are two primary ways for “testosterone” to be deficient. One is where the hormone producing apparatus has been surgically removed and the other would be where other hormones are introduced to upset a balance in the “normal range.”
    Our City Council exhibits both types of behavior. Those Council members who are employed by the City directly or indirectly with one or more family members so engaged act as if they are independent, but when it comes to opposition on serious fiscal matters, they can muster no strength to oppose anything. They cannot see their conflict of interest that incapacitates them.
    Other Council members, especially newer ones, are drugged by the “status quo” as in “We do it this way, and always have.” When you are getting requested info that is generally not available to the public or in a timely manner, and when you have to vote quickly, or when there is insufficient benchmarks available on trends over a measuring period, you can feel lost, alone and you fail to sound an alarm. Pretty quickly ALL CHECKS AND BALANCE have been removed from the City scene. What can be done to reverse that environmental contamination of our governance process? Time will tell.

  7. Most of the council members are too damned dumb to know what Sherwood is doing. It happens every year. Any union givebacks are done out of fear of losing their jobs, period. There is no love lost between bird-breath Finch and the unions.

  8. MAGOO, that’s not true at all. The Fire Department endorsed Finch as did 1522 I believe and the trade unions endorsed Finch. Look, the unions would endorse a ham sandwich if it were on the Democratic line.

  9. Andy–it is obvious to everyone you know a little of everything and A LOT about nothing. You’re an angry little man. I feel sorry you. Carry on.

  10. park city fan, thank you very much, coming from you that’s a compliment. Don’t feel sorry for me, I got it made. I am rich, good-looking and people love me. Can you say the same?

    1. Rumor Mill:
      Seen on the cover of this month’s Men’s Health mag:
      He’s retired, ripped and ready to kick your ass. Meet ACF, this summer’s beach bully–he makes Tarzan run for safety!

  11. Andy,
    You are definitely ‘rich’ in life experience, and that movie-star poster you have pasted to your bathroom mirror provides a reason weak vision allows you to feel good-looking. But people do love you and appreciate you. (And those who don’t … f’get about it … they may soon change their minds when they begin to understand what you have helped uncover.) Just give them the old Telly Savalas line (lollipop jutting from lips) “Who loves you, baby?” With all the unpaid time you work at this subject, it’s got to be because you are a lover! Time will tell.

  12. Some good fiscal news perhaps, though more review time is due. The City Financial report for February, by Charter due on Friday, March 28, 2014 was delivered to the City Clerk office today. At the moment it is projecting more than a $500,000 surplus. Will attrition, attention to furloughs, etc. allow the Mayor to recover the $2 Million budgeted for that purpose? Will the City fund the entire minimum budget requirement due for this year (and sign the State letter of intent for the next MBR)? Why are overtime figures in multiple departments over budget still with lots of oversight?
    And in terms of OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT governance behavior, why aren’t these reports put on the City web site each month, just as the CAFR and the Budget proposals have been? More people would take a look at them, read the notes, see what is happening, right? And why not add the actual active number of employees each month for each department. That is done in the BOE budget and should be very easy for the City with fewer employees. One last question for you fiscal watchers: The BOE pages in the monthly report run approximately 20 pages each report. The Finance Office has nothing to do with managing the BOE budget month to month and the numbers reported are not necessarily accurate. These 20 pages are superfluous to City Council review also. (If you want the reports they are available on Bridgeport Public Schools site on Excel sheets, along with employee positions and also providing info on grants budgeting.)

    Take the public seriously. Put the info out for all to see and learn. Cut down on paper use where you can … that’s a green initiative certainly. Time will tell.

  13. I am in full support of Andrew, I love his style and his no-bullshit approach to the everyday garbage that happens in the City. I still know for a fact the unions inside city hall work out of fear. I got my first pink slip when I did not go with the program.

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