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In April Budget Hearing The Sound Of Crickets, What About Tuesday?

July 3rd, 2016 · 45 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Budget, City Council, News and Events

council chambers

Postal worker Michael Bottillo sits in an empty City Council chambers in April

On April 21, this happened: the City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee conducted a public hearing on the city’s spending plan and two taxpayers spoke. On Tuesday, now that they’ve received their tax bills, angry taxpayers are trying to rally a protest for the City Council meeting. Isn’t it better to scream before the budget is approved?

OIB story from April public hearing: Well, two speakers are better than none, right? At 6:07 p.m. on Thursday Scott Burns, co-chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, called the meeting to order for the public to speak on Mayor Joe Ganim’s proposed $560 million budget. Michael Bottillo, a postal worker from the West Side, stepped up to the microphone. “The mil rate can’t go up,” he told the council members. “If it does this city will be another Detroit.” At 6:17 the public hearing ended. Just one other speaker, citizen fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee, addressed the council. And that was it. City Hall staffers sitting in the empty pews far outweighed the public speakers.

Lee at public hearing

John Marshall Lee, a reliable presence at council meetings, addressed the budget committee.

Thursday night was dwarfed by Tuesday’s public hearing when more than 200 education advocates filled the council chambers to address school spending. Thursday’s public hearing was devoted to city side spending such as police, fire, public works, parks, executive level departments, etc. Finance Director Ken Flatto, Budget Director Nestor Nkwo and Chief Administrative Officer John Gomes were all in attendance to observe the public hearing.

budget committee

Council committee heard from two speakers on the budget.

Lee urged the council members to be mindful of spending. “We are under water and sinking,” he declared.

Lee’s words may very well be accurate, but that sinking feeling apparently has not registered with taxpayers.

The council committee is reviewing Ganim’s spending plan. It will make changes and vote on the budget in May before it goes to the full 20-member body for a vote. Ganim will then take a veto review. A final mil rate will be set for the budget year starting July 1.

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45 Comments so far ↓

  • Maria Pereira

    I was out knocking on doors yesterday when I received a robo-call from Dave Walker urging residents to attend the City Council meeting on Tuesday night. Several of my inner circle received it as well.

    I got home early Sunday morning and found an empty envelope in my mailbox with a address label from a neighbor on my street and the front of the envelope read as follows:
    “Maria, What a Terrible Disappointment Ganim is.”

    He is quite ill and it would have been a challenge for him just to get to my house which is only 6-8 homes away from mine.

    First thing I did Saturday morning was go down to see him. His taxes went up $900.

    I apologized to him for supporting Joe Ganim, Anthony Paoletto and Nessah Smith. I explained that both Anthony and Nessah approved the budget and outrageous mil rate proposed by Ganim.

    I heard the same valid complaint door after door yesterday and had to repeatedly inform voters that not only was Ganim wrong but so was Anthony and Nessah for voting in favor of it.

    The lowest increase I heard was $800 and the largest I heard was $1200.

    When you make a mistake you have to own it and apologize. I did a lot of both yesterday.

  • Michael Bottillo

    I will be there. Joe, you need to cut your pay and your top staff for city council members that vote for the high mil rate people will remember next time when they vote. It seems some of the council members just go along with what ever Joe wants. Smh.

  • Pete Spain

    “Isn’t it better to scream before the budget is approved?”

    Yes, of course. And it also would have been better if more than 18% of registered voters turned out for the last election.

    Despite that, John Lee spoke–and has spoken–for years to the City Council on key indicators and causes and effects of substandard governance in our city and the results.

    Has the City Council listened? Clearly not.

    In response to the growing hue and cry in the 130th City Council district, late this week, the council people for the 130th, Scott Burns and Katie Roach Bukovsky, called a sudden public forum at 10 AM yesterday at the Burroughs Community Center. As expected, the event was poorly attended.

    Here’s a link to an unedited video of the event that my wife shot:
    drive.google.com/file/d/0B0jqPeLum6FnT3F2a1pSVl80dHM/view

    This was the FIRST PUBLIC FORUM held by Burns and Bukovsky since being elected. The Bu-Bus ran on being good communicators, people who cared about the community, and, to quote their campaign literature, people who if elected to the City Council, would “lead the fight for to reduce property taxes and their impact on our families and neighborhoods.”

    According to the co-chair of the Budget and Appropriations, City Councilman from the 130, Scott Burns on July 2, 2016–time mark 1:25:

    “… first and foremost is that this was the mayor’s budget. He proposed it, he laid out how he wanted the money to be spent. … and the job as Council and as the Committee (the Budget and Appropriations Committee that Burns co-chairs) is to try to parse through it and try to figure it out what’s going on. I’ll also say that I don’t like this budget anymore than any of you do. … It was a less than ideal situation. Part of it is rooted in how the charter is structured. … we wanted some cuts as a committee … would have been about 3 mils … but if we were to propose the numbers we wanted to … the structure is the mayor would veto it. If he vetoed everything we cut, it would be his full $560 million budget. That’s not anything any of us wanted.”

    And yet, both Burns and Bukovsky joined in the Council’s unanimous approval of the budget. You didn’t like, you knew the mil rate would end up being at least 52 (see below), and you didn’t vote “No?” Why?

    How do you think that makes the public feel, on top of being hit with a 29% mil rate increase in one year?

    After watching the video, a neighbor wrote to me this morning:
    “So–sorry about my lasting outrage and simultaneously shitty lack of support. I feel this fatigue with all of these players and their cynicism, obfuscation, stupidity, and failure. We’ve been here for over a decade, and it’s the same now as it was then. … The problem is we’ll have likely lose our house by next summer.”

    This is people’s lives.

    Around minute 7 into the video, a resident said she feels we are all “f-cked.” Everyone in the audience agreed with her.

    Sounds like from what Maria Pereira wrote above, this isn’t merely a “Black Rock” issue, as some would like to claim.

    At around minute 8: Scott Burns said to the constituent who felt f-cked, “I can’t argue with you.” Burns went on to reveal that Ken Flatto, the City Finance Director, had told Burns that “it’s only a few hundred homes in the city that are going to get hit. But it’s not only a few hundred homes.”

    Later in yesterday’s forum, it was presented that 96% of businesses had a tax hike in Bridgeport.

    Starting 8:50, Dave Walker:

    “City governance 101: Grow the tax base faster than the budget. According to Danny Roach, the final grand list was down 20%. … The spending has gone up significantly since 2008. As a result the mil rate went up 29%. Every time you raise the mil rate, you reduce property values, you take people’s home equity, you reduce the attractiveness of the city as a place to live and do business. … Joe Ganim obviously doesn’t have the willingness or the ability to do what needs to be done. I understand the structure of the charter.”

    Walker went on: “We need an independent financial control board … and we need it now. And the City Council needs to demand it. And the mayor needs to request it because the Governor has the power to do it. … Have to tough decisions that elected officials may not want to make. If we don’t get that … this place WILL GO BANKRUPT. We had any leadership in this city, they’d be able to do something to tell people it’s in their interest to restructure outside bankruptcy.”

    Scott Burns around 17:40: “The mayor ran on this idea of being open and transparent … you mention the mil rate; most mayors, selectmen will come out with some indication of the mil rate. But he [Ganim] wouldn’t do that. We kept asking but he wouldn’t come out with it.”

    Scott Burns around 19:50: “We had a sense of what the mil rate would be … around 52.”

    • Frank Gyure

      Some of the statements from Scott Burns were “surreal” and Ms. Bukovski was silent most of the time. Their statements at this neighborhood forum were contradictory to their actions as CC reps.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Forget about the Mil rate for the moment.
    Who was outraged when Finch spent $300,000 two years ago to buy most of a City necessary five year revaluation in 2013 and then told us he went to Hartford for a postponement? I was outraged more when my City Council person told me it was just “raw data.” And they kept it secret? How? Tore it up? Made VSGI swear not to leak the numbers? Let some folks know within the inner circle? Well the taxable grand list was deflating and the indication of that to those in power caused them to “dummy up” and keep it from the public.
    And who was outraged when the former City Assessor posted a Grand List with a $1 Billion DECREASE? And Ganim in office eight months now has said nothing about the Wheelabrator tax fight that the City pursued from 2007. Is his strategy such a secret? And what are the risks to taxpayers? Storytime? Or not?
    Outrage over claims of Open, Accountable, Transparent and presumably Honest that have no follow through? YES!!! And the same outrage that he sent budget numbers to the City Council that were inaccurate, lies, misrepresentations, etc. (depending on the department) including never providing any real numbers of actual employees next to a list of current, vacant, new, etc. that has been part of budget formats for years. And the Council asked for these but did not get them. Outrage over that too. Who will have the courage to rise from their seat on Tuesday evening and share their outrage as Jack Banta did at the last meeting of the Council: State your reason, Council persons!!! You are being disrespected. Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, our Independence Day (from a colonial power of the time). Courage, to gain respect for your opinion and for the facts you ask for and do not receive.
    If you are denied the info, refuse to vote on all the matters brought to you by the City. Those willing to vote despite the lack of respect are currently bought and paid for in one way or another, a job, a title, work for family members, all sorts of conflicts that are “corrupt.” Are we made of better things? Values that go beyond political decisions, being bought off, or being on a winning team. We are a diverse community. Why is that diversity of talent, culture, experience and devotion to high standards not embraced more fully in the City? Is that what carries on to G2 ignoring the school population of over 22,000 youth?
    I have outrage for the vast increase in Police budgets in the past eight years while police numbers were allowed to decrease, and the expenses entailed for that have been hidden because they have increased so radically under Finch and now Ganim takes the Finch deficit as cover for yet another major increase. not necessary if budget CUTTING had been done. But you need full info to do that and whoever recommended the consultant to the Budget and Appropriations committee kept them from getting a “budget cutter” but rather a “revenue specialist” who in fatter State years might have tipped them off to possible new revenues. But NOT THIS YEAR. Outrage??? What do you think keeps my “watchdog activity” ongoing?

    We are nearing the end of this story. Ganim can posture with the City Council about passing his own budget if they do not approve. So what? How are we measurably better off? In 1776 the same fight was ongoing. Folks liking the status quo who benefited from it and thought that opposition to the rules of the King was treasonous. And then they were called Loyalists. And then they had to get out of town, back to England, or Canada, etc. What about today? Some folks with residences with big tax increases and big value decreases? Ninety percent or more commercial properties with increased taxes that will increase rents? And for those who did not get increased, is ignoring school budget needs of $15 Million worth it to you? Fair to the children who live here? How will it assist their successful future? Will the Mayor stand up and tell us about the priorities he had in mind and did not share with us? Or will he send Av Harris out with another press release? Time will tell.

  • Zena Lu

    So screaming before the vote would have somehow created the money to avoid this? No screaming implied it was okay to vote yes for this beast? Is it beyond the realm of comprehension by the council that the Citizenry was trusting them to make decisions in the best interest of the taxpaying population? Isn’t that what they were elected to do? A true NO vote was rejecting the whole budget, not a symbolic protest to the mil rate which meant absolutely nothing. We are not stupid, guys. Nobody voted no. Nobody.

  • Frank Gyure

    The bottom line is A LOT MORE people of the city of Bridgeport need to get involved. That means hitting the streets and going door to door. Finch proved that inundating your mailboxes with political flyers does not work. This has to happen throughout the City of Bridgeport. The low involvement of Bridgeport citizenry has allowed rats like Mario Testa, Joe Ganim et al. to be in power. Realistically speaking, for those who want change, the next target is the City Council Elections in November 2017. As we have learned, just forget about the vipers’ nest called the DTC. People need to start meeting, start talking, start organizing NOW. We need a “McLevy Moment.”

    • Frank Gyure

      Excuse me, big changes can be made in this year’s elections for State Senators and, to some degree, state Reps. If McCarthy, Bradley and Stallworth can be defeated, maybe some progress can be made.

    • Phil Smith

      You are correct.

    • Lisa Parziale

      Frank, you’re absolutely correct. Now is the time to begin district coalitions with like-minded, motivated citizens, find a meeting venue large enough to bring together the district people, and it will take on a life of its own. For sure there will be traction in the coming Council elections, and it will provide an opportunity to engage new, willing individuals interested in serving on the Council, and who are not recycled or connected in a covert way.

  • Robert Teixeira

    Let me get this straight. JG1 was elected as the savior of Bridgeport from bankruptcy. He borrows $350 million and he and his administration spends the money like drunken sailors. Outlandish benefit packages were given. The money corrupted every level of government to the point where Joe ended up in prison. And I’m not going to entertain the Hell-bound selfish dirtiness that was and probably still is going on in government. The economy takes a dive, revenue diminishes but the city is still on the hook for the financial liabilities they had incurred.

    Finch comes in during the crash of 2008 and the city has to renegotiate with unions because the city can’t pay the liabilities the city currently has on its books. He raises taxes and renegotiates contract deals with unions.

    Joe comes out of jail and runs for mayor on the platform STOP RAISING TAXES. The cop unions endorse Joe because Finch renegotiated their contract. Joe wins the election and hires 100 cops and to pay for them he gives Bridgeport residents one of the highest tax increase in its history. Simultaneously he asked other unions to give concessions because the city can’t afford to keep the liabilities that were promised because the city’s broke. They refused and he laid off city union employees.

    JG2 wants to borrow $175 million to run his administration. Jesus Christ, does anybody see a pattern here? LOL as it stands this country’s national debt has tripled and increased by $13 TRILLION since Joe first went to jail.

    One of the best ways for the country get a handle on its financial crisis I think is to rein in on the healthcare system, it’s bleeding government, business and this country as a whole. I’m not just talk about the terrorist doctors who are torturing American citizens; hell even terrorist doctors infiltrated the VA hospitals. I think the military should place some snipers on these terrorists who are killing and attacking their soldiers. And for that matter the terrorist doctors killing and attacking Americans.

    We need a war in this healthcare system. We need to destroy the terrorists within it, create a single payer so businesses can compete in the global economy. Cure disease instead of treating them. It’s amazing how you can buy a gun over the internet but you can’t buy lifesaving drugs from Canada. At one tenth of the cost.

  • Phil Smith

    Personally, I would focus on the Council elections in 2017. That is where the real change will come from.

  • Dave Walker

    Phil,
    Waiting 1-1/2 years to do anything meaningful at the City level is not a viable option. Under the Charter the Mayor has all the power. We should hold Council members accountable in 2017 but that is far from enough.

  • Jimfox

    Black Rock 170.

  • Bob Walsh

    So what’s the over/under on attendance tomorrow night? 150 members of the public? Fewer than 150 is disappointing. Standing room only with the balconies packed is a game changer.

  • Bob Walsh

    Have the organizers reached out to the unions? Although that might be a strange relationship, the key is getting as many people as possible to tell Ganim he is wrong.
    Would David Walker be willing to deal with unions or are they eternal enemies?

  • Mojo

    *** SAME OLD SONG JUST DIFFERENT TIME, ALL ENDORSED IN THE END BY UNEDUCATED POLITICAL VOTERS WHO VOTE DEM PARTY LINES OR THOSE WHO DON’T BOTHER TO VOTE AT ALL! AND THE SAME OLD SQUEAKY WHEEL DISTRICTS THAT BOTHER TO SHOW UP AND SPEAK AGAINST THE MACHINE AND POOR GOV ISSUES THAT MAY AFFECT NOT ONLY THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS BUT IN TIME, THE ENTIRE CITY’S RESIDENTS. TEN DISTRICTS YET IT’S ALWAYS THE SAME THREE OR FOUR DISTRICTS THAT UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF UNITY AND PUBLIC TEAMWORK, ALONG WITH THE SQUEAKY WHEEL GETS THE OIL CONCEPT, NO? *** YOU GET WHAT YOU VOTE OR DON’T VOTE AT ALL IN THE END, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU ONLY VOTE FOR THE SAME POLITICAL PARTY LINE YOU REALLY KNOW NOTHING ABOUT TIME AFTER TIME, NO? ***

  • Mojo

    *** IT’S NOTHING NEW FOR BPT; CONTINUE TO VOTE FOR THE SAME OLD POLITICAL PARTY LINE AND INCUMBENTS, WITHOUT DOING SOME TYPE OF POLITICAL RESEARCH ON PAST RECORDS AND ISSUES IN GENERAL. STOP SITTING BACK AND JUST COMPLAINING TO THE WRONG PEOPLE. GET UP, GET INVOLVED, READ THE PAPERS, LISTEN TO LOCAL NEWS RADIO, GO TO A COUNCIL MEETING ON A MONDAY NIGHT TO GET FAMILIAR WITH THE CITY COUNCIL FORMAT, ITS MEMBERS AND LOCAL AGENDAS. STOP VOTING STRICTLY PARTY LINES AND START VOTING FOR INDIVIDUALS YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE ABOUT AND WHO TALK ABOUT THE CHANGES YOU AND YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD WOULD LIKE TO SEE! IT DOES NOT TAKE A LOT TO GET INVOLVED OR UP TO DATE SOMEWHAT IN WHAT’S GOING ON IN YOUR DISTRICT TO HELP YOU MAKE BETTER VOTING CHOICES IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT. *** BACK TO BASICS FOR THE FUTURE ***

  • Frank Gyure

    NO TO JOE!!!

  • Bob Walsh

    I would hope and pray if Tom McCarthy shows up tomorrow night, the public gives him an earful. He is a major player in the City’s financial crisis and should not be allowed to show up and tell the public he feels their pain. The public needs to tell him he created their pain!!!

  • Harvey Weintraub

    McCarthy will try to distance himself from this because he thinks we are all fools. Hey Tom, you don’t have Finch and Anastasi to protect you anymore, time to answer some questions.

    And on a sidenote, I would hate to live in Miss Pereira’s district, seems all she does is “knock on doors” around her neighborhood. I would think the people are sick of it at this point.

    • Lisa Parziale

      Harvey, the best way to get out your message and engage the voters is to do the old-fashioned face-to-face. Most politicians hire canvassers to do what they should be doing. It’s hard work, you have to be thick-skinned, sincere and remember to take notes of the voters’ concerns and comments. It’s also time-consuming, and when the weather doesn’t cooperate it’s downright painful. But it’s the best way to reach and connect with the voters. Most candidates today do it to a minimum, but the ones who take the harder course win. Examples are Jack Hennessy, Chris Caruso, John Stafstrom, Auden Grogins and maybe a couple more. Maria is doing it right; and the voters love her.

  • Maria Pereira

    Mr. Weintraub,
    If you don’t live in my neighborhood why are you concerned about how often I knock on doors? The vast majority of my neighborhood residents appreciate my efforts to keep them informed on candidates and local issues.

    But just so I can reduce your stress level over the amount of door knocking I am doing in my neighborhood; I have already started knocking in Charlie Stallworth’s neighborhood and have received an incredible reception. I have been knocking just 8-10 blocks from his street and only one person knew who he was.

    A disabled voter invited me into her home and told me she thought he was “adorable.” I was surprised by her answer so I asked her “why do you think he is adorable?” She responded with “I thought he was adorable in a mentally retarded way.” I was completely speechless. She went on to ask me “isn’t he mentally retarded?” I replied with “he is incompetent but he is not mentally retarded.”

    I left it there, ordered her AB for her, and locked her in as a one for Marilyn Moore and me.

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