How did you spend your Friday night? It was a long one for members of the Bridgeport City Council crunching numbers, weighing options, restoring cuts and examining new revenue sources. The Budget and Appropriations Committee co-chaired by Bob Curwen is racing against a deadline Tuesday, the final day the council can make recommendations to Mayor Bill Finch’s proposed budget that calls for dramatic cuts to library staffers and nurses.
The preliminary news I received after midnight (thank you for the call) has some good news for the library budget. Most of the $1 million that Finch’s budget proposes to clip has been restored. There was also restoration to at least six nursing positions.
Council action regarding the school-based health clinics is a different story because Finch is looking at outsourcing the services. Most council members worked after midnight on the budget and a good portion of Saturday.
Still, several unanswered questions to the budget remain because common ground between the legislative body and the chief executive is fuzzy. For instance, where to direct the more than $1 million in fees–most of which comes from the Bridgeport Port Jefferson ferry service–that fills the tank of the Bridgeport Port Authority, a body removed from the general fund created by council action at the height of the gaming debate more than 10 years ago. Also, Finch’s budget includes roughly $1 million in new hires. What will happen to those positions? In addition, will the council include the anticipated $4 million from Steelpointe revenues in the upcoming budget that created a hole in the current budget?
Part of the stumbling block, say many council members, is the lack of perspicacity by the city budget director Tom Sherwood whose reticence to explore creative new revenue sources comes cloaked in legalism. You can’t do this and you can’t do that because of so and so. That’s what bean counters do, especially after serving as the architect of the current year budget that had a $16 million hole midstream.
Sherwood balks and the disconnected mayor–who had thought seriously about canning Sherwood a few months ago–doesn’t challenge his rationale. Why? Because not enough people in the building know the budget, or understand finance, creating an over-reliance on Sherwood. Chief Administrative Officer Andy Nunn, a good guy who has plenty of experience building budgets from his days as chief executive in Monroe, hasn’t been around long enough to fully comprehend the complexity of an urban budget. In time, he will.
One year ago Johnny Fabs’ budget team castigated me in a letter to the editor because I (hardly a numbers guru) dared to challenge in a column the budget numbers in an election year. You don’t have to be a numbers wiz to ask questions or seek creative concepts. Council members such as Curwen and Bob Walsh, whether in harmony, or independent of each other, are asking questions to add sanity to the budget process and save jobs in a rotten economy.
If the council plays this right they look like heroes and Finch the heavy-handed mope.