Citizen fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee who has mined city budget books for years shares his thoughts following the Ganim administration’s disclosure of a $20 million budget gap. From Lee:
Forecast by the new City fiscal leadership previous to release of Comprehensive Annual Financial Report – 2015 information from Blum Shapiro – with observations:
· Inherited fiscal problems are broken into revenue shortfall ($5,605,000) and overspent appropriation accounts ($14,450,000)
· $20,000,055 of City operating budget of $274 Million according to this summary. However, looking to July 2015 monthly financial report (mfr) the operating budget was listed at $532,370,209 and the BOE budget from their website lists their budget plan (with Alliance) at $245,590,744 which leaves a difference of $286,180,000 that is about $12 Million more than the City reports as of this date. What is the real number from Council approval? Where is City obligation to BOE listed in mfr? Is it $60 Million?
· Perhaps a central place where BOE and City operating data are reported in agreement would be helpful. Especially when the BOE is reporting its own deficit of up to $5 Million in the current year. Will Finance Director Flatto comment on why the July-October MFR refer to the FY 2016 budget as “revised” when the City Council has barely worked with it, much less voted on a fiscal subject?
· There are two pages showing budget growth 2011-16 and then property tax growth for the same period I accept as fact but a serious chart that should have been included in that space was a chart of both Grand List for the City in those same years, and then the lesser Net Taxable Grand List for those identical years that serve as a notice or report card of the success in economic development. (Such Net Taxable Grand List chart might also indicate pending legal claims against the City regarding disputed assessments and inform taxpayers as to material risks to current values represented.)
· The next pie chart shows City taxpayers provide 56% of revenues to operate while Federal and State revenues provide 36% of those same operating funds. Attention to taxes has been referred to as “aggressive” in recent mfrs but double counting of State revenues indicates the type of error that occurs (and is not corrected) when no one is monitoring or fact checking reports.
· $2.7 Million excess over previous year budgeted and approved by Council over $4.9 Million received in arrears and penalties in 2015 despite pushback by Councilman Torres on this same subject at budget meetings with no reasonable justification provided to or for CC at time of their vote.
· State Aid errors? Sloppy tracking of expected funds by City Finance with no report by October of this failure with a narrative footnote.
· Tax Collector provides line item detail of many PILOT revenues including Captain’s Cove with actual 2015 unaudited revenues of $5,000 but 2016 budget of $120,000. Webster Arena not listed as such among PILOTs. What is revenue arrangement and where is it listed in mfr? (NB Where is the agreement between the City and the current manager of the facility and what obligations does the City have for providing funds like $800,000 or more for “WiFi” for such facility, especially when the rents are failing to be maintained. How does the City manage outsourcing?)
· ‘Outside overtime’ is a union contract and Ordinance issue that needs study and perhaps a major change. It has not been considered for review for many years, but what is the practical reason for providing a full service public safety officer to a road cut worksite to direct traffic at overtime rates that swell pension costs when basic level jobs are needed in the City for young men and women who can be readily trained for such jobs, saving funds overall. Efficient and effective? (When will we see a revised police staffing chart alongside work towards filling such? How long will internal overtime continue budget-busting into the future?)
· $8.7 Million of pension payments are claimed to be not budgeted or not spent. Which is it? What revenues are required currently over the next several years for such plans with agreements signed off on by State of CT? The City Council has neither requested nor been presented with pension budgeting info by City pension consultants for over four years. This is a critical failure in oversight when public safety personnel went from City Plan B coverage with a reasonably known schedule of payments into a negotiated arrangement with the State of CT MERS that has never been provided to the public.
We’re over 700 words at this point. Time to stop this epistle, taxpayers? Talk to your City Council people. Ask them for a public meeting to discuss these issues in your District. I am happy to attend and visit with you if invited. There’s more certainly to be known, done, and monitored. Will you assist? Time will tell.