In a commentary that also appeared in the Connecticut Post, Mayor Joe Ganim highlights initiatives during his first year back in office.
A year ago when my administration took office, Bridgeport was facing incredible challenges, including a large budget deficit, a state-mandated property revaluation, increasing crime, and a lack of widespread economic development. Today, thanks to our hard work over the last year, Bridgeport has largely overcome these challenges and is now on a path of growth.
Bringing back fiscal responsibility
Upon coming into office a year ago, my finance team informed us that we had inherited a $20 million deficit halfway through the fiscal year. Like other cities throughout Connecticut, Bridgeport was in serious financial trouble. Having been elected to bring fiscally responsible government back to Bridgeport, we immediately took action to put our fiscal house in order. We cut our payroll and implemented a spending freeze across all departments. We refinanced our debt and found creative ways to raise revenue. In less than six months we closed the deficit, ending FY 2016 with a small surplus, and adopted a balanced budget for FY 2017.
This major accomplishment was noted by three major Wall Street bond rating agencies when they recently maintained our “A” bond rating with a stable outlook. This is truly remarkable in the context of declining bond ratings for the State of Connecticut and several large cities in the state. Ultimately, our stable bond rating will save the city millions of dollars as we make major investments in our communities and bring about major economic development.
Spurring economic development
Revitalizing downtown and spurring economic development throughout the city have been among our top priorities. Thankfully, we are beginning to see a boost to urban redevelopment in downtown Bridgeport, including mixed-use housing and retail spaces. And, we are currently working on plans to invest millions of dollars to transform downtown into a modern urban center.
We also continue to see progress at Steelpointe. Across from Bass Pro, a groundbreaking is scheduled next year on a marina, a waterfront restaurant, a hotel, and high-end apartments. Groundbreaking is also scheduled on Seaview Avenue for a movie theater, an upscale grocery store and multiple restaurants.
Meanwhile, progress is being made on plans to build a new $150 million train station on the east side. PSEG is beginning construction of a $550 million clean gas power plant–the single largest investment in Bridgeport’s history–while decommissioning New England’s last coal-fired power plant. And, we will soon be releasing a comprehensive plan for the development of Bridgeport’s 24 miles of waterfront property.
Finally, as part of our plan to foster economic development, we have made fighting blight and illegal dumping a major city-wide initiative as we work to turn blighted lots into new developments and hold people who dump illegally accountable. And, we have made great efforts to modernize parking in downtown Bridgeport to be more business and visitor friendly. Overall, we have seen great signs of progress throughout the city, and we are hoping to build on this progress in the years to come.
Making our city safer
As we work to make Bridgeport a more attractive city and improve our neighborhoods, we realize that we must make substantial investments in public safety. In the Bridgeport Fire Department, we brought in new leadership, successfully won a nearly $3 million federal grant, and recently graduated a class of 22 new firefighters. In the Bridgeport Police Department, which was at its lowest level of staffing in over a decade, we have worked to bring it up to its full capacity. In September, we graduated one police recruit class with nearly 30 new officers and recently started a second class of more than 20 new recruits. Because of this, we are well on our way toward adding 100 new police officers to the force. This effort, along with new department leadership and initiatives to fight violent crime, has yielded a 45 percent reduction in homicides compared to 2015.
Transparency and other major initiatives
Finally, over the last year, we have implemented several new initiatives that have begun to transform the way our government does business. Through our Open Bridgeport online portal, we are now giving the public the ability to see how every government dollar is earned and spent, making Bridgeport the most financially transparent city in Connecticut. Through our new Bridgeport 311 mobile application, we have given the citizens of Bridgeport an easy way to report and track quality of life issues that affect them on a daily basis. And, through our new Mayor’s Initiative on Re-entry Affairs, we are strengthening Bridgeport’s status as a second chance city by helping residents returning from incarceration gain employment and live productive lives.
Although there is so much more work to be done, the accomplishments of the last year have given us momentum and have inspired an increased confidence in the Park City. With your help, my administration will continue to build on this progress in 2017.
I wish you and your family a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.