City Council Gears Up For Budget Season

Two weeks from receiving Mayor Bill Finch’s proposed spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1, the City Council has been operating for months without long-time Budget and Appropriations Co-Chair Bob Curwen who verbally announced his resignation from the city’s legislative body but had not submitted his official resignation in writing as of late last week. As a result city lawyers are reviewing a course of action the council can take to formally remove Curwen in lieu of a resignation in writing, and fill his vacancy.

Curwen announced his resignation from the council citing family health issues. Curwen had represented the city’s Upper East Side district. The council soon may also be facing another resignation if Marty McCarthy, who represents Black Rock, follows up on his representations to council members that he will be resigning. McCarthy has been largely absent at council meetings the past several months attending to his restaurant business on Fairfield Avenue.

Council members vote to fill vacancies generally on the recommendation of leaders from respective political districts. If and when McCarthy resigns Black Rock District Leader Danny Roach says he will recommend Steven Stafstrom, an attorney with the law firm Pullman & Comley, fill the vacancy. Steven Stafstrom is the nephew of former Democratic Town Chairman John Stafstrom, also an attorney with the law firm.

Serving as co-chair of the budget committee becomes labor intensive this time of year as the council reviews the mayor’s proposed budget, interviews various department heads, votes on the budget and sets a mil rate in June. In Curwen’s absence East Side councilman Angel DePara, the other budget co-chair, has absorbed the lion’s share of the responsibility.

Finch will deliver his annual address to the business community Tuesday at noon at the Holiday Inn. The mayor often uses this speech to provide a glimpse into the budget he’ll submit to the council. The mayor has said he will submit multiple budget scenarios to the council because city spending is at the mercy of the state legislative budget process underway in Hartford.

Bob Walsh, a frequent Finch critic when he served on the City Council, claims the mayor can only submit one budget proposal to the council. Statement from Walsh:

I realize that some people may think of this as a technicality but the mayor can only submit one budget to the council for its approval. Since the Charter requires that the city adopt by default the mayor’s recommended budget if the council fails to act he cannot have three budgets before the council.

Would the mayor then pick or choose which of his recommended budgets to adopt?

Imagine a dishonest mayor instead of an incompetent one, who could (based on this precedent) submit 5 recommended budgets and the council could go ahead and make all of their proposed changes to one budget which the mayor then withdraws at the 11th hour.

Or would the city attorney suggest that they would have to make changes to all five and if they do not reconcile, then the mayor could select one and blame the council for their incompetency?

It is all a PR piece and there will be one budget that the mayor submits that will be based on totally unrealistic revenue projections from the state but will show a cut in the mil rate and the mayor gets to blame the state (or the council for that matter) for the tax increase since he will say he submitted a budget with a decrease.

City Council Monday agenda here.



  1. Tax increase …

    People are hurting, in Bridgeport and everywhere. The economists might say the recession is over, but most of us live life by experience, not equations. And the experience of paying our bills from month to month tells us all we need to know.

    The mayor’s 2013-14 budget proposal was itself a marker of the trickle-down effect of the bad economy, absorbing as it did an anticipated $2.1 million reduction in state aid caused by the gaping deficits swallowing Hartford.

    That said, news that the mayor’s $500 million operating plan would call for a 5.81 percent property tax increase hit hard. It’s too early, however, to accurately assess just how hard. Many factors remain unresolved that could wind up affecting people’s tax bills.

    A big one is the revaluation. It’s likely that 5.8 percent figure will be reduced for most homeowners when the revaluation is factored into the setting of the mil rate. For many, the reduction could be significant.

    There is also a matter of $1.2 million in state education funding that has not yet been classified. If determined to be part of the annual Education Cost Sharing grant, the money could be used to offset the Board of Education’s $295.9 million portion of the budget–which could have a slight impact on tax bills. It might, however, come down in grant form that requires it to augment the city school spending, not offset it.

    Finally, there’s the car tax. The governor wants to get rid of it this year, which likely would have another trickle-down effect, causing the property tax rate to go up. Of course, any increase to property taxes could be offset for many by not having to pay a car tax anymore.

    The biggest factors, however, are the B&A Board of Representatives. It’s their job now to scour the budget. They, not the mayor, will determine the final number.

    The mayor makes the case that given economic conditions, given staffing cuts he’s not made in past years, he didn’t have much room to maneuver with this budget.

    Other than actually eliminating jobs, Finch has nowhere else to go.

    This is the largest tax increase he has proposed, but Mayor Finch did go wild with a spending plan that includes money for fireworks.

    The part of the budget he controls would increase 1.8 percent to $202.1 million under his proposal, with debt service rising 8.4 percent to $57.8 million. The school board’s budget would rise by 5.9 percent.

    Schools will face the boards of Finance and Representatives, too. But most of the school system’s money, like the city’s, is tied up in employee costs. Cut bodies from budgets, particularly the schools budget, and the city will feel the impact in other ways.

    City Council members have a difficult job ahead. But they need to take great care as they seek to find relief for taxpayers that they do not do unintended harm. Hopefully, the revaluation will do much of their job for them.

  2. Why is a legal opinion necessary to find a replacement for Bob Curwen? He sold his house in Bridgeport and he moved to Norfolk Virginia. This is just another stall tactic by the mayor and his cronies.
    After attending two years of budget hearings and watching the B & A pass every department’s budget without any cuts this year should be interesting. Just think, Finch is going to submit three different budgets. The B& A could not handle one budget, what are they going to do with three?
    I have a question, how many city employees who are on the council voted for funds that came from the Federal government? How many recused themselves and left the room when the Federal Monies were discussed? If any of the six voted for the Federal monies or were in the room when the federal monies were discussed, they violated federal law thus committed a federal crime. What will they do this year when the same subject comes up?
    Unfortunately for Bridgeport residents the B & A committee and the council are ill equipped to handle these financial problems.

  3. Fluck, do I understand by your comments you already have a copy of the 2013-14 budget, and are commenting on it? Where is is available?
    If you are talking about the current budget year, it would be termed the 2012-13 budget. And it was proposed by the Mayor’s office as a larger % increase than finally adopted. But there was an increase that may not have been necessary or necessary in that amount because of the funding of “ghost positions,” positions that were vacant in May and still vacant and not filled in September and were adjusted in Line 51000 of over 61 department sections for a total positive amount of $3.6 Million. Where is this money being spent? Where are any signs of fund transfer at the City Council level? Who wants to explain, Fluck?

    As far as Budget and Appropriations Committee, where have they cut proposed employees in recent years (with the exception of terminating their ONLY LEGISLATIVE ASSISTANT as of June 30, 2012)?
    Real budget cutting will be a new experience for them. And they have little grasp of intended consequences, much less unintended consequences it seems to me.

    A lot has been written during the past week on the subject of revaluation. Most of it has been accurate. Reval and mil rate setting are not the causes of property tax increase. Decrease in revenues from sources other than Bridgeport property taxpayers plus poorly planned or executed budgets are the reasons for increased property taxes. If the Mayor points to increases in debt payments or funding for pension plans, you need to ask him what he negotiated with the State to put us in this position this year, and why he has waited until now to tell us about it, right?

    Choices need to be made. Priorities need to be determined. Elected leaders will need to step up to their duties. Budget Oversight Bridgeport-2013 is recruiting again. Call me at 203-259-9642 during a weekday or leave a message if you want to be present to hear the discussions about the budget proposals and the extent to which budget review is accomplished by the ONLY FISCAL WATCHDOG BODY in the City. TIME WILL TELL.

  4. City employees on the City Council cannot participate in budget and labor contract discussions or votes. There is a fundamental conflict of interest and basic ethical concepts demand they recuse themselves in connection with such matters. The City also needs to freeze its total budget level in order avoid any additional tax increases. Bridgeport already has the highest tax levels of any city in America. Any increase in taxes will only serve to further reduce property values and discourage both businesses and individuals from being in Bridgeport. It’s time to just say no to higher taxes. If this Mayor and City Council can’t figure out how to do it, we will find people who can.

  5. Dave Walker, you are obviously new here. The City employees/Council members will most definitely have a major role in deciding the budget. Even if they recuse themselves publicly, we all know the real decisions are made in the back room. I’ve witnessed this process for many years. It is guided by OPM Director Tom Sherwood who tells the Council members what they should do and they all follow suit without question. Angel dePara will do as he’s told. So will Tom McCarthy, Warren Blunt, Rich Paoletto, Michelle Lyons and all the rest.

    Tom Sherwood is the main problem here. Our debt service has grown substantially under his direction as the City mortgages its future. People like David Walker, along with JML and Andy, are threats to Sherwood because they know what questions to ask and will ask them. Sherwood hates questions; he prefers to run the show his way. I’m looking forward to an interesting budget process. I hope it starts with the 30 ghost positions.

    1. The Fixer,
      Your comment is directly relevant to why HB 5724 needs to enacted into law. The people of Bridgeport decided many years ago and for good reason City employees should not be on the City Council. Unfortunately, some people only do the right thing when the law demands it.

  6. *** How many of the 5 city employees who sit on the city council are on the B&A committee? And whether they sit on the B&A committee or not, should they not recuse themselves from voting on the city budget altogether? I know council member Michele Lyons sat on the B&A however she’s an employee of the BOE and is allowed by charter to sit on the city council and is one of a few who actually does a “good” city councilmember job! I’m looking into the possibility of putting in a grievance with the city’s Ethic’s Committee concerning the conflict of interest with city employees just to get a written decision on their view concerning the issue, maybe the same should be done with the State Ethics Committee, no? *** TEAM BPT ***

    1. City employees should recuse themselves in connection with any and all budget- or labor-related issues. There is a clear conflict of interest. The law represents the floor of acceptable behavior. There are higher ethical and moral standards people should strive to meet. In addition, public servants should lead by example since they work for the people and hold a public trust.

  7. Just went to the City site to see Budget & Appropriations Special Hearings Schedule when the Mayor’s proposals are sent to them. There is no schedule posted yet. Has one been formulated yet?

    Noticed since the new Committee year started in December B&A has had only two meetings, one a Joint meeting with Miscellaneous Matters and the other a Special Meeting. I can understand the SNOW EMERGENCY precluded the February 11 session, but what is stopping this group from a monthly review of City financial matters? Aren’t they the only taxpayer check and balance on City Finances? We need more volunteers for Budget Oversight Bridgeport-2013 to sit in on the department hearings. Want to become a Bridgeport Watchdog this year, a member of BOB? Call me at 203-259-9642 and leave a message with your name, phone, email contact and department you would like to monitor. Forget ‘virtual reality’ on TV for an evening. You will not find anything more real than the Q & A between our City Council representatives and the Department leaders of our City employees explaining their needs and observations. Then you get to ask yourself how close this annual show comes to your personal decision-making on your home budget when things are tight. What’s your conclusion? Time will tell.

  8. Are you kidding me? Curwen publicly announces his resignation. He moves not only out of the 138th district, but out of the city and state as well and the council needs a legal opinion? Why doesn’t Tom McCarthy pick up the phone and call Curwen? Tell him to mail, fax or email his letter of resignation to the town clerk. If they can’t do that, aren’t there bylaws they can refer to? I mean a criterion to sit on the council is you reside in the district you represent. Clearly Curwen has not lived in the 138th since January when he departed in the middle of the night. Is it really that hard to remove him?
    Probably not. This is just more nonsense Bridgeport residents put up with while the machine finds the right puppet or allows Marella to establish a residence.
    Oh the games they play at the taxpayers’ expense!
    To the 138th town committee–get off your ass, name a replacement who will work for the citizens of Bridgeport and stop playing games!

    1. barney,
      Just another example of how dysfunctional the City of Bridgeport’s government is. Let’s see how they handle this year’s budget. Bridgeport is ground zero of fiscal irresponsibility and political machine cities. People have had enough with the lack of leadership, integrity, transparency, transformation and accountability from our elected officials.

      1. Dave Walker, you said, “just another example of how dysfunctional the City of Bridgeport’s government is.” What Bridgeport needs is a “Republican Party” that functions as a viable political party that has counterproposals. Seeing as you are a Republican you could lead that fight, Mr. Walker.

          1. Dave Walker, that’s great you are a political independent and have been one since 1997, but what I said Bridgeport needs is a “Republican Party” that functions as a viable political party that has counterproposals.

    1. Chosen 1,
      My agenda is simple–improve the governance practices and financial condition in Bridgeport before it’s too late. Both are poor now, are in need of major reforms, and time is not working in our favor.

    2. *** Bpt is lucky to have a voting resident like Mr. Walker and once the voters know his platform, would probably benefit by him running for Mayor! *** Chosen 1 seems to be the one with an agenda, no? ***

  9. Chosen 1, imagine that, a writer on this blog has an agenda. So what’s yours? Are you at City Hall and disparaging someone who is onto the multitude of fiscal secrets Walker is talking about? What is your reason/agenda for questioning his agenda rather than comment upon or support the issues he raises?

    Perhaps you are from out of town and not a City voter? If you are a taxpayer and voter in the City, why are you not raising your voice to protest the poor work of your Council representative in financial stewardship? What is your agenda? You bring discredit on #13 with your limited comments. Time will tell.

    1. How do you know what I do and have done? Maybe I have been side by side with you. Maybe not. Did I touch a nerve? No way I exposed what everyone knows, Mr. Walker eyes the big seat.

      1. Chosen 1,
        I attempt to answer questions others ask me. Your post is easy.
        I (we) have no way of knowing what you do or have done, because you do not identify yourself on principle, out of fear, because you are posting phony comments to attempt to irritate other, or for a multitude of possible reasons, including having an agenda you do not wish to disclose.

        Whether you sit side by side with me or not, if you were open and friendly to all, you might have introduced yourself and shared a real conversation, unless you have an agenda you wish to keep private.

        “Did you touch a nerve?” Do you enjoy talking to yourself? The ‘big seat?’ What are you talking about? Maybe you are talking about that part of the human anatomy that is commonly clothed in civil society that relaxes by sitting on a rock, or a chair or whatever? Or are you talking about the CHAIR itself and the POWER of that chair? You seem to have way too much respect for the derriere occupying the Chief Executive position, rather than the open, accountable and transparent intelligence of the person occupying the seat!

        So when are you going to tell us some more about yourself? Time will tell.

  10. *** The City Council has enough money in their legislative line item account to “hire” an experienced independent accounting firm to assist the B&A committee in working towards a fair and balanced Mayor’s proposed city budget. Otherwise it will be a disastrous city budget with higher taxes, job cuts and layoffs, increases in all city service permits, licenses, inspections, etc. and flatline school system funding, along with zero across the board on any new city service contracts. And as usual, the Mayor and City Council will point the finger of guilt towards the State Capitol, no? *** LIKE A VOLCANO WAITING TO ERUPT; IT’S GOING TO GET UGLY BEFORE IT GETS BETTER. ***


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