City financial watchdog John Marshall Lee shares his latest observations about the city budget and how the City Council addresses a potential tax increase in an election cycle. From General Lee:
I heard a rumor this week. It concerns another proposed property tax increase this year for Bridgeport taxpayers. The Finch administration is preparing to propose its 2013-14 City budget by March 1. Perhaps they are working on it and having trouble funding all of their expenses? Perhaps some expenses exceeded budget approved last year? Or perhaps the 2011-12 fiscal year closed with a deficit and not a surplus, but how would we know until we see the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report due before December 31, 2012.
Today I have discovered the Mayor’s letter is dated December 21, 2012, but did not find its way to the City Clerk office (or to the Finance Department web site listing) until January 28, 2013. Be sure to read this report.
Returning to word of the tax increase rumor: it seems some of the City Council members have been alerted to this coming taxpayer disturbance and they are not pleased. They have to run for office again in the fall of 2013. At first I envisioned Rip van Winkle awakening in Sleepy Hollow after 20 years (we had a Financial Review Board then) to 2013 when financial information is late regularly, is not easily available electronically to all citizens and is not discussed in public forums by and with the elected representatives of the people. Then I realized Rip van Winkle provides a wrong image.
Instead picture an Indian fakir residing on a bed of nails, who rapidly sits up. Will the bed of nails (the pointed reactions of voters to another tax hike in a City Council election year) suddenly become uncomfortable? Take a look at what is up in the fiscal air at this moment in the City:
• The CAFR and comments from the external auditor in the Management Letter (whose comments and responses by the City have not been public for four years)! Decrease in unrestricted and unreserved City Fund Balance? Over $10 Million in City departmental expenditures in excess of budget?
• Tax collections in the City for January are running true to budget? Or not? Why is the City Council being asked to authorize $110 Million of Tax Anticipation Notes again?
• City Council election in the fall, but also the posting as of October 1, 2013 of property revaluations at a time when residential values have decreased. How high will the Mil Rate need to rise with a stagnant Net Grand List?
• Who is performing any oversight, monitoring or watchdog duty regarding City spending? Does anyone care?
There’s more to see if you look at the data. Have you spoken with your Council Representative lately? What do they have to say about how wide you need to open your wallet this coming year? Time will tell.