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.