Council Takes Budget Action, Restores Some Cuts

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.



  1. First order of business for any newly appointed CEO… mayors included. Assess the capabilities of the management team; can they deliver what they need to achieve? If not, act and act fast, to build the team that you need.

    Mediocre talent in any key job is a drag on performance and efforts at change. You can’t move an organization, or a city for that matter, any where but backwards if you don’t have the right leadership and the right mix of talent in critical jobs.

    Here’s another area where the Mayor has come up short. He can’t draw on his own experience (because he doesn’t have it) in building a high performance team. He’s forced to compromise and live with hand-me-down players or those with a political legacy.
    This isn’t good for the Mayor. And it’s certainly not good for the city!

  2. Whenever new revenue sources are explored the people in power just shake their heads and get a BS ruling from the city attorney’s office.
    Get rid of the Port Authority Now put the money they generate into the General Fund. Period!! Finch’s problem here is that the head of the Port Authority was in his wedding party. Tough!! Get rid of the board from the WPCA they are blood suckers and are not needed. Don’t forget they still have not released their 4.5% rate increase scheduled for July 1st.
    Include in the budget new revenue sources.
    1. Charge ATT for each of those large ugly boxes on so many poles in the city.
    2. Charge the utilities a fee each time they open up the street. They always cost us money because we have to repair the roads when they are done.
    3. Negate all hiring by the mayor for the new positions with the exception being Economic Development.There has to be at least a $1,000,000 savings there.
    4. Take away all city owned vehicle from people that take them home every night. There has to be a savings of considerable dollars there in fuel costs.
    5. Privatize the clinics by putting them up for bid it’s a double savings. We receive money from the bidder and we no longer pay to run the clinics.
    6. Get rid of the police horses and put those cops back on the street. Savings at least $500,000.
    7. All mayoral appointments take a 10% cut in salary.
    8. Use at least a small portion of anticipated revenue for this budget.
    If Finch doe not start working with the rest of the people that are in office and with the ton chair he will find himself a loser again.

  3. Please tell me that they have restored our invaluable City Historian’s position. Mary is the gem — you are the pearl.

    First time user, but have been reading from conception. Proud of you. Would have loved to see you again at your party and meet your special Mo, but conflicting with City Lights Spring Fling!

  4. Wondering re: charging utilities a fee when they open a street for repairs. It is my understanding there is law on the books that requires them to do so already. The problem is there is also a city employee whose job it is to enforce that remedy whenever a street is open and repaired. The guy is a do-nothing deadhead! I’d like to know when was the last time he actually got off his ass and ever inspected any repair work.

  5. I don’t understand the projected revenue gain for folding the Port Authority into the General Fund. Yes there are approx $1 million in revenues from the Ferry passengers and cars but there are lots of expenses too. In the post 9/11 world port security, the terminal, and the various procedures required for port traffic has a cost. Sure I guess it could render some positive revenue but it can’t be a lot.

  6. They’re estimating a savings of $1,000.000. The revenue from the Ferry could be put in the general Fund or into the rainy day fund. While you need some port security with turbana Banana leaving we lost a lot of traffic. As for security I am not sure what is left there to secure and when was the last time a terrorist was arrested at Bpt Harbor. I am not sure who is paying the salaries for the workers at the Ferry but if we are we shouldn’t be. I can’t describe in detail where the entire million is coming from but that’s what I am told.

  7. I appreciate the Mayor’s ‘holier than thou’ fiscal approach to one-shot revenues. I really do. I appreciate his outside fiscal panel said it was a ‘no-no’ to included one-shot revenues. BUT GET REAL. Bridgeport’s current tax base is 47% tax exempt so applying purist accounting principles while you build the tax base is just that, purist and too hard a hit on the homeowners and the decisions of those who need to invest in Bridgeport. Some or all of the projected revenue from American Fabrics and Steel Point land sales should be included in this budget. Unless, that is, those deals have fallen apart too. The economic development pipeline that was very strong and robust at the end of 2007 has been in neutral since this new administration took office. Why hasn’t United Rentals been announced and that projected property and personal tax revenue been included? Steel Point was supposed to be closing next month, where is that deal? American Fabrics should have been closing soon even with a new developer.

    It is May already! There are construction cranes swinging in Stamford, New Haven and Norwalk. Sure the economy is tough right now but not totally impossible. Get the City Economic Development team back in high gear PLEASE. Get a strong and experienced ED Director and release the full report of that outside panel to the Council and the public. The Mayor, as CEO, not Senator or Councilperson, needs a strong professional team back in the saddle operating at full throttle. We need the Mayor to act as the CEO of a $600 million company. He needs to put his well learned politician habits on the shelf, hire and manage a strong professional staff. He should go back to visit with NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg or Harvard’s Kennedy School, learn and start acting as a CEO. It is way past time.

  8. Gossip of The Rialto!

    “EXTRA! EXTRA!!”

    Bridgeport’s Loss. Monroe’s Gain.

    Michele Mount to leave city employ at end of May. Looking to dismount DebraLee Hovey from Monroe/Newton state rep. seat.

    Campaign slogan may be “Heave Ho-Vey!’

  9. I wish the city would address the Black Rock (art ?) Center building. I say sell it, put it back on the tax roll. Delay, delay etc. is the response when asked about its status. Last month it was Voodoo Month there, what ever relevance that West African religion has to do with “art” got me. Celli still collects a check there, so I guess we are paying him to give us religion lessions and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see JOE running around with a bone in his nose, sticking pins in the good TAX PAYING CITIZENS of Bridgeport.
    I can’t believe the city would instead want to get rid of Mary Witkowski; sounds like a sick spell to me

  10. Black Rockin

    Sounds like a case of Voodoo Economics!

    Mary is an outstanding person and resource for our city.
    I think Bill needs spellcheck.
    We have to “Reverse the Curse!”.

  11. Is Michele Mount really leaving? Rina and Michele were very strong supporters of the new Mayor. What is his problem with strong experienced women???

  12. countdown

    Great insight into your two posts. Rina and Michele are strong women and free thinkers. Bill prefers yes men and “Dead” Wood.

    He’s suffering from E.D..
    Economic Dysfunction!
    We and he needs some prescriptive relief.

  13. If the guy that put together the budget numbers under the Fabrizi administration blew it so badly, why is he still around? I also think something should be done with that Black Rock art center, sell it and put it on the tax rolls.

  14. Very little attention is being paid to a great idea proposed by Councilman Bob Curwen for creating revenue. In last week’s Connecticut Post article regarding the budget, Curwen mentioned the Idea of a surcharge on Utility Poles.
    This Idea is not far out. In El Salvador the towns collect from the utility compaines a surcharge for each pole. Other South and Central American countries do the same.
    Is this idea still on the table and if not, is it because there needs to be legislation passed to do this. Could it be possible that upon reading Curwen’s Idea the Utility Lobbyists began to make phone calls?

    The Finch Administration has only explained only 1/3 of the reason for the Budget deficit. Out of the $16 million deficit Finch only accounts for $6 million of the deficit. Bill Finch could your administration tell us where the other $10 Million was spent? When was the $10 Million spent?
    Did John Fabrizi go on a spending spree before leaving office?

    We all know that the Finch administration is trying very hard not to release the names and positions of all those selected for lay-off. What are the chances of the Bird administration releasing a list of all the City Departments that went over budget and for what amount?
    Will the City Council ask the real questions and look for answers after the budget is approved? I don’t think so!

  15. Don’t be so quick to blame budget Director Tom Sherwood (scapegoat) for the deficit. Why isn’t there any blaming or questioning of Department heads regarding the deficit in their respective departments? Who approved of or allowed the department heads to go over-budget and why didn’t Fabrizi stop the bleeding?

  16. Wondering

    “The revenue from the Ferry could be put in the general Fund or into the rainy day fund.”

    For you information, the Rainy day fund currently has $29 Million. We have a $16 million deficit. Don’t you think it has rained enough? How high must the Rainy day fund be, when it’s time to dip into it?

    I’m wondering why you didn’t do your research, before stepping in to give us your intelligent opinion. But then again, I’m the one who knows nothing.

  17. Tom Sherwood has two step children named Wondering and City Kitty. Both approach daddy and ask for $10 each. Daddy Sherwood gives Wondering a $20 bill, both go skipping and hopping to the corner store. Once in the store, Wondering buys $12 of candy and gives City Kitty $8. Kitty (frown on face) asks Wondering for the missing $2. “Sorry sis, I went over budget.” “No fair”, Kitty said. City Kitty buys $10 of cigarettes with a credit of $2. Both hop and skip back home, at home Kitty complains to Daddy Sherwood about Wondering going over budget. Wondering snitches (Fabrizi) on City Kitty about buying cigarrets and taking $2 on credit.
    How many people here blame Daddy Sherwood for Wondering’s $2 over-spending and City Kitty’s $2 debt?

  18. Joel there is more than your third digit missing. Just so you know wise ass there is not $29,000,000 in the rainy day fund. The Finch administration has quietly taken $10,000,000 out of that fund. I suggest that when you get off work tonight and say goodbye to all the animals at the zoo you do some research on the rainy day fund. Just once I would like to see you put forth correct information instead of bull sh–. The criticism of Sherwood was that he was part of the budget procedure that depended too heavily on anticipated revenue thus a $16,000,000 deficit. The other criticism is that he is fighting attempts such as Curwen’s to find new revenue sources for the city. The one true statement in your posts and I quote “But then again, I’m the one who knows nothing.”

  19. Wondering, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I don’t read Joel’s postings any more because he’s in his own little world, but I did when he mentioned us. Thing is, I just didn’t get what he was trying to say, but that didn’t surprise me. I’ve been reading about Curwen’s ideas and I think he’s got some really good ideas as to how to fix the budget.

  20. “Wondering” has a few good ideas that should be looked at seriously. My feeling is that we need to privatize, privatize, privatize. We can no longer afford all these public employees and their respective perks.
    With regard to taxes on utility pole boxes, I think that that would just result in higher utility bills so one way or another we’ll be paying.
    Parenthetically, has anyone ever looked at the City budget and tried to understand it? There is no way an
    intelligent human being can get his/her arms around it. It is unintelligible and I think it’s meant to be that way. I hesitate to make reference once again to the City of Providence but you only need to look at its budget to understand how that mayor has been able to change that city.
    Also, it’s difficult for me to understand how the utility companies (as well as any others for that matter) can open a street without the prior posting of a bond with the city for at least double the cost of repair which bond is not refundable until two years after repair is made to assure a restoration to at least the quality of surface before construction began. This is required in New York State and it’s difficult to believe that CT has not followed suit.
    Finally, it is my understanding that we are required to have budgets that set forth expenses and revenues for two years hence. Why are we going through all this agony every year?
    Once again, if the budget as proposed is increasing the mill rate the Administration is making a very grave mistake. We might just as well post an ad on one of those unsightly billboards along the highway that commerce is not welcomed here.

  21. Most of the bloggers on this site will wear out their keyboards before some of the ideas that might salvage Bridgeport become a reality.

    The fact remains, it’s not a shortage of IDEAS that’s standing in the way of progress. Read the suggestions posted here and you’ll see many of the answers are strikingly clear. The tougher, more intractable problem, is a shortage of people in city hall who understand how to turn an idea into revenue generating, tax saving results. The evidence is clear. What this administration needs, it currently doesn’t have: proven managers with the know-how and skill to implement fiscally sound and broad-based changes to city governance.

    Hope springs eternal for most city residents. But with a leader who “just won’t listen” and a senior team with limited experience in business, Bridgeport’s around the corner turn-around, could be light years away. Let’s hope the Mayor recognizes he has the power to solve the problem… before it’s too late.

  22. “Most of the bloggers on this site will wear out their keyboards before some of the ideas that might salvage Bridgeport become a reality.”

    Thanks for the humor, Bruce Hubler. I enjoy a good laugh. I will keep this in mind and keep a back-up keyboard close by.

  23. “Just so you know wise ass there is not $29,000,000 in the rainy day fund.”
    Wondering thanks for the, “wise” compliment. It means a lot coming from you.

    “The Finch administration has quietly taken $10,000,000 out of that fund.”
    So, you do agree that the $29 Million figure is correct. It’s not my fault the Bill Finch is full of shit, considering that he stated that he was not going to dip into the Rainy Day fund, because it will have a negative effect on the City’s Bond rating.

    “The other criticism is that he is fighting attempts such as Curwen’s to find new revenue sources for the city.”

    I know Bob Curwen personally and I’m sure that Sherwood knows that Curwen calls the shots right now. As Curwen stated in the Connecticut Post article, “We can do whatever we want.” The Council has the power and I just hope they used it and look into what led to this deficit, after they are done with the current budget.

  24. Bruce Hubler, I am taking the 15th. of this month off to attend the OIB event at the Cove. I hope you attend, for it would be an honor to meet a bright person such as yourself. There aren’t many opportunities for folks to have such a dream come true. Hope to see you there.

  25. Joel-I enjoyed you and Wondering going at it today having your “Digit”(al) dialogue. I’d like to give you a high five, sorry I mean a high four!

    Since Yahooy clearly has rebuffed Kelly’s overtures for dinner with Lennie and “Mo”. You, Bruce and Kelly could have a mangia a trois at dinner. Yahooy in his decline to Kelly thought he should find a goumad for his dinner companion. Kelly responded; He would “like to find a goumad who is a gourmand”. Maybe one man’s dream would be another man’s nightmare. May all your dreams come true.

  26. Lennie asked:
    How did you spend your Friday night?
    Working. I received a visitor (no names) at work, who was ordered to hand deliver a letter to me, from the city.
    At first, I was happy thinking it was a bride. Before Wondering and City Kitty take me serious and call the feds, I’m just kidding. I said, “I’m just kidding.” Are we clear?
    I opened the letter and it was from City Labor. The purpose of the letter was to inform me that the Connecticut Post had made a request for release of the names and positions of the City Employees selected for lay-off. The letter included a copy of the request from the Post and also included a consent form, for me to sign, whether or not I was in favor of the city releasing such information.
    I signed to release the information and will be tkaing it to Labor relations and a copy to my Union. I do not work for Finch, I work for the tax- payers of the city. The Tax-payers are entitled to know who I am, where I work and how much I get paid. They are also entitled to know why I’m being laid off, for what cause if any and the nature of my duties as well as the importance of my position (do they really need me). Without these facts, I’m no sure how can the City Council make wise decisions when deciding wich positions are essential.
    I work in a facility worth $50 million doing night watchmen duty, It requires (3) shifts and I’m the only one working there and I’m on call if ever needed (something I do not have to do) I have not gotten overtime in over 8 years. my take home pay is under $22,000 a year.
    The letter mentioned obove was dated May 1, 2008. I received it on the Friday the 9th. of May 2008. It is obvious that the Finch Administration is stalling and delaying the process and trying to prevetn the Connecticut Post from reporting the facts. Good night my OIB friends. Hey, Wondering and City Kitty, Stop snoring so damn loud, I gotta get some sleep.

  27. Joel Gonzalez is a night watchman at the Zoo. He is about to be laid off. Does that mean that the Zoo will not be guarded during the hours that Joel works? Or, does it mean that our seriously inept Mayor will replace Joel with a political appointee?

  28. Joel doesn’t make a lot of money and even though I think he’s sorta nuts, I feel sorry for him and everyone else who is getting laid off. Besides, I think the zoo needs a watchman at night, there are a lot of crazy people around who might do damage there or hurt those animals. Maybe they will have the police watch the zoo, but a cop gets paid a lot more than Joel does. By the way Joel, I don’t snore very much.


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