City Council Rejects Tax Break, Plus: Lee On Budget: ‘Half Truths Of Padding, Ghost Employees And Half Stories’

Update: votes against. In a rare vote against Mayor Bill Finch Monday night the City Council torpedoed a proposed tax break for a developer. Prior to the council meeting citizen fiscal observer John Marshall Lee, considering a run for City Council, addressed the legislative and budget body as a whole Monday night, “the last chance I will have to speak to you as a voting body before you act on the 2015-16 Operating and Capital Budgets.” Finch has submitted a spending plan with no tax increase in this election-year budget.

Council members who voted against abatement: Lydia Martinez, Milta Feliciano, Alfredo Castillo, Jose Casco, Patricia Swain, Bob Halstead, Enrique Torres, Melanie Jackson, Michelle Lyons and Richard Salter.

From Lee:

Recently I have focused on materials provided to you before a decision and whether it is trustworthy. In the case of approval for $44 Million of Capital spending, a two-page outline of over 30 projects is striking for the information it fails to provide for each project. Perhaps one or more items should be in the Operating Budget where you get some information monthly, rather than the Capital budget where there is no regular reporting mechanism at this time. You need to monitor and verify the money and budgets you vote upon better for real accountability.

In recent appearances I have called into question the number of mistakes and errors that routinely show up in City fiscal documents. I will guess that no one proofreads them or that folks in power do not care what they send out, as they do not expect you to read and reflect on the numbers. Errors are a part of the problem but so is the failure by the City to use its MUNIS fiscal reporting to its full extent by including grants revenue with footnotes, totals of those employed with taxpayer dollars, and meaningful service indicators of performance for departments and programs. Can you trust City reports?

I nominate the Police and Fire Department budgets as presented monthly and in proposed budgets for the Annual Obfuscation Award. Thank you to the Councilman who asked for a budget presentation restricted to the six Office of Policy Management categories. It helps you focus on variances from one month or one year to the next. That executive type summary should become your standard going forward. When you review and need more info you can always request it. Start with the simple display.

However, representing the largest serious problems I find in your budget, are the continued half truths of padding, ghost employees, and half stories. With the experience of Baltimore so recent in our minds, we know that schools, police and youth programs of all kinds are being held up to critical light by the media. For tonight let us postpone schools and police and focus on formal funded youth afterschool and summer program provider, Lighthouse. Pages 315 to 318 of the Proposed Budget provide a most incomplete presentation of this program.

• While targeting 3500 youth to be served by after-school and summer programs among others, they report serving no more than 2800 year round. (Crudely estimated $1,750,000/ 2800 = $625 per youth expense.) Where are the details listed below included?
• When revenue data is requested, NOT APPLICABLE is stated, yet in a recent report to the BOE, Lighthouse claims $850,000 of registration and fee revenue (and there is no specific info on how many scholarships or fee mitigation cases may exist or such process.)
• In addition the total 2015 budget revenue is $4,551,362 including Federal grants of $860,000 and State Department of Education grants of $570,504 and two other grants from the State of CT totaling $501,000. ($4,551,362/ 2800 = $1625.49 per youth!)
• The program is budgeting $3,651,232 for next year including grants that is twice what they show the City Council. And the BOE charges no rent for school space used by the programs, an in-kind act that is most helpful to Lighthouse expenses and the City budget. Does it serve to offset any of the City listed in-kind contributions to the BOE?

Did the Council look at this program this year? Were any questions asked to explore how the program spends twice what the local taxpayer provides with no further increase than 2800 youth when there are almost 25,000 Bridgeport youth from the K-12 population in public, charter, parochial and other schools? Are you aware that there is a local non-profit serving over 4,200 youth in Westport, Fairfield, and Bridgeport providing similar services and afterschool and summer programs funded on a budget of $2.5 Million? Why not benchmark both programs for efficiency?

Who is auditing or monitoring Lighthouse? Has their very necessary light for the youth of our community grown dim and prevented more outreach and programs because fees are too high, because administrative compensation appears excessive, or because the program is no longer a dynamic force? City Council members will you consider a thorough study, followed by a public presentation and hearing, with Council participation? (Whether one of the Budget co-chairs should participate or vote is his ethical decision.) How many parents wish for such a program for their youth yet are left on the sidewalk by the current fee structure or management decisions? Time will tell.



  1. This City is drowning in a sea of irony these days.

    Does this Administration know they are actually one of the big reasons developers feel like they can ask for ludicrous terms like this? Do they know they are the reason developers feel like they are doing Bridgeport a favor by locating here?

    Not likely.

  2. What is the value of using 24 BOE school sites (Barnum, Batalla, Beardsley, Black Rock, Blackham, Bryant, Columbus, Curiale, Discovery, Dunbar, Edison, Geraldine Johnson, Hall, Hallen, Hooker, JFK, J. Tisdale, J. Winthrop, Madison, Marin, Park City, Read, Roosevelt and Waltersville) with no charge for the space at those sites? Perhaps the BOE could calculate such value provided to a City Department like Lighthouse and note how that is a genuine “in kind” payment to the City. Thus the BOE might monetize their “in kind” the way the City is forcing the BOE for other services. Tit for tat? Other youth programs have costs of buildings as a part of their budget, so what makes Lighthouse an exception? And why has there not been a comprehensive budget presented annually showing where the funds are SPENT?? If taxpayers are providing $1.7 Million annually and parents and families another $850,000 of registration and program fees why aren’t City taxpayers informed of same, and then of the additional $2 Million brought in during the current year? Is this part of what is making Bridgeport better every day for youth? Or is it possibly making life better for those who are receiving payments for their work but perhaps is not extended to the 80% or more of City youth not currently included? How about better reporting? Good programs are needed. Time will tell.

  3. JML is raising points the city council should be considering. JML is filling a void of what is lacking, a willingness to look at the numbers objectively. Can the functions of Lighthouse be more effectively and efficiently provided by another organization that does not include $400,000 in salaries plus benefits for city employees?

  4. JML, you are a gift to the citizens of Bridgeport. I hope you pursue your decision to run for the City Council. I wish I could vote for you, but as you know I’m in a different Council district. Just a side note; congratulations to the members of the City Council who voted against the Administration’s intent to grant this excessive tax break!

  5. I think the vote had less to do with the council growing growing a pair and had more to do with the last election or should I say the defeat of some incumbent council persons and BBOE defeats.

  6. John Marshall Lee, great point, “How many parents wish for such a program for their youth yet are left on the sidewalk by the current fee structure or management decisions?” You know I’m glad you have decided to run for the City Council as a Democrat, yes, the DTC will not give you much help, you still can win then they will have to listen because you are a Democrat. Time will tell but you can win.

    1. Council members who voted against abatement: Lydia Martinez, Milta Feliciano, Alfredo Castillo, Jose Casco, Patricia Swain, Bob Halstead, Enrique Torres, Melanie Jackson, Michelle Lyons and Richard Salter.

      1. I am proud of all these elected officials, but especially Melanie Jackson. Mike Marella, your vote was an absolute disappointment.

        I will spread the word as I knock on doors in Thomas Hooker. 🙂

  7. Ron, I am happy you understand the wavelength I am using. I heard the story of PT Parents with kids at Longfellow before demolition who were looking for a local program, but too much money for three kids in the family on a weekly basis.
    $3.700 Million of Federal, State and local taxes going into the program PLUS $850,000 of fee revenue budgeted and nowhere is that reported with the partnering organizations and the amounts spent on different Line Items??
    Each of you reading this or who were complimentary above need to talk to your Council person and make a case for monitoring this program fully so it meets the needs of the community. Right now it seems to be doing status quo and hiding in the shadows. To get better daily, more is required. Accountability, Mayor Finch? Time will tell.

  8. I was pleasantly shocked when I read this ,I still can’t believe some on the council went against what Finch/McCarthy wanted. Finch must still be fuming (picture him slamming his hand on his desk this morning). I could imagine the call Finch had to make to McClutchy telling him even though he promised this would “glide” through the council, he miscalculated. Now I bet the “contributions” to Finch’s campaign will come to a grinding halt for McClutchy. All I can say is, Bill, you are losing your hold on this council, the writing is on the wall.

      1. I was not present, however I understand Mayor Finch blew a gasket after the votes were cast. I am also hearing he physically laid his hands on Castillo. Can anyone who was present confirm this?

        The Spanish community and leadership is quite upset about Finch’s conduct and behavior.

  9. Donald, the council members who voted to deny are not in jeopardy of losing their council seats. I am being cautiously optimistic they will continue to exercise responsibility and continue to challenge and deny requests in the future.

  10. I do not believe this is the first time questions have been raised about Lighthouse financials and programs. Can’t recall any specifics.

    1. flub,
      Can you think of any reason why department budgets call for Revenue details, and Tom Sherwood lets the Lighthouse program assert that this is NOT APPLICABLE? Yet Lighthouse shows $850,000 of registration and program income. Who receives the funds? How are they accounted? Where are they disbursed? Were there questions a few years ago about inappropriate financial management of these funds? Keeping them out of sight of the Operating Budget presentation for years does what?

      By the way, if Lighthouse is receiving $2 Million in five or six Federal and State grants for their activities this year why is this info missing? When the City goes for a grant do they report what the taxpayer is funding? I will bet they do. Who gets to look at the comprehensive revenue picture and at the actual appropriations?

      These are youth programs. All 24 school sites had served populations as approximations not accurate as of a certain date. And some sites have had trouble keeping track of or actually inflating numbers of youth reported. Oversight, monitoring, and allowing more youth to be in programs especially those from families most in need and youth identified as most at risk would be something to trumpet. Where is the dynamism of this program? Where is the Mayor reporting on Lighthouse as an example of the City getting better every day?

      Finally, a look at the City February Monthly Financial Report indicates the Lighthouse current staff budget has been cut by $175,000 from $387,010 although they have already spent $233,651 on Line Item 51000. Does this make sense? Is it merely a math error encountered routinely? Or something else, unexplained in the narratives accompanying the monthly report? Why is this staffing change not reflected in the 2015-16 budget presentation? Got to keep inquiring. Time will tell.

    1. What I think Bob, is it is a wonderful circumstance there was “thinking” going on. Not just a knee-jerk response to Finch-Wood directives.
      This is quite a break-through.
      And breaking through I ask if the Mayor lost his temper or was quite mature in accepting his loss on his East Side scam, which is his latest taxpayer rip-off scheme?


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