One month away from Mayor Bill Finch submitting his budget proposal to the City Council, city financial guardian John Marshall Lee implored the city’s budget authority to focus on the financials. His Monday address to the council:
Council President McCarthy, Council persons, interested member of the Bridgeport community. For the past two Council sessions I have addressed financial issues raised by the release of the June 30, 2013 Monthly Financial Report.
I have told you that this was a historically significant report because the Finance Office has failed to provide you with such for over 20 years. The Charter says 12 months of monthly reports but the City has not been doing that. In 2012 they posted a report for the 12th month and termed it a DRAFT, never issuing a final report. I believe that the Finance Office felt that you were not asking for such a document. And indeed, if none of your predecessors including the incumbent members of Budget & Appropriations asked for it, then they did not get one.
This year one of your members asked for the Final Report and you received it. Did you bother to read it? Have you heard any of the questions I have asked you during the past two sessions? I send you my comments by email after addressing you. I know you are busy, but the people who voted for you expect that you are the last watchdogs in the City. Are they wrong? When you are asked a question and know the answer, do you share that answer?
For instance I shared with you the surprise of discovering an entry in Controller’s Department of $510,000 between the June draft and the June final for a line item that expected $50,000 for the year and had no positive revenue indicated right up to the June draft. Is that magic? I hope it is a good number, but who has asked for an explanation? What is the answer? If I am looking at these numbers and have questions, do you think I am the only one in the City looking to you to handle this responsibility? Can this entry for Line Item 41538 repeat again this year? Or is it a one-time event? Or is it possibly an error? Errors occur in City fiscal reports you know and watchdogs need to review the material to catch them … (Were you to reference this year’s CAFR, the external audit prepared by Blum Schapiro and the Finance Office, you can find errors on page 60 and again on page 81 that should have been spotted by cursory proofreading. The first has to do with Firefighters Retirement Plan B, Column four where the same number repeats five years in a row. The second on page 81 where the data under 2010 has slipped a space. Do these errors affect the totals? Check them out. After all the Mayor and Chief Finance officer are pleased with the report getting a Transparency reward. Are there more serious errors included? How would you tell if you do not read, if you don’t question, if ALL FISCAL REPORTS were put on the internet, just as you get them. That would be real transparency. And if the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report is not the subject of an annual public hearing with Q & A where all can listen and learn, why not?
Regarding Open practice, your Council rules prevent your committees from getting input at their meetings from the public. Are you pleased with that or proud of that? There are people in the community who can assist in helping the City strengthen its financial position, but you are not open to them. Why not? Is it because you believe you know everything, those of you who have sat on this body for years? It takes a community (if not a village) to share in the information, understanding and discussion that leads to wise long-term fiscal results. That has not been the City habit unfortunately.
Staying on the Revenue side of the June report is the surplus in 44691 Line Item of $2,333,181. In the previous year we had received $3.6 Million for Manufacturing Machinery and Equipment but when the 2013 budget was put together that was not to be. However, the City did receive it and managed to spend all of it when it might have been used to reflect a significant surplus along with the $500,000.
In 2013 the City did manage to run $8 Million of deficits for public safety employees. What is that number for the current year? Does anybody have that number handy? Lastly, in 2013 there was no budget for Attrition. Can you explain Attrition (it’s found under Organization Code 01610, Line Item 50700) but now it is showing in your current budget to the tune of $2 Million. Can you explain what it is? Why is this number not changing through the year? What is happening to the furloughs and other employment adjustments each month and are the results showing in the reports presented to you?
One month from now you will begin your budget review for 2015. Will you handle this task the way it has been handled in recent years with staffing patterns that have allowed the City to shed $3.5 to $4 Millions of salary after one quarter? Taxpayers are looking at you. If you need help, independent assistance, get it on board quickly. Time will tell.