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Lee Examines City’s Power Point Numbers On Budget

December 17th, 2015 · 8 Comments · City Budget, City Council

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.


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8 Comments so far ↓

  • Quentin Dreher

    JML, thank you for your efforts. I will be in contact with you during the Christmas week.

  • Mojo

    *** JML, it’s obvious the B&A committee is not experienced enough to balance this $20-plus million budget gap, etc. They have the money in their legislative line item to hire an experienced firm by simply getting the entire B&A committee first to vote on it. Then convince the rest of the council to also vote yes, to go ahead with the process! It would only be about, say $4,000 I’m guessing! *** TIME TO DO THE RIGHT THING, NO? ***

  • Park City too

    From the brief, confusing glance at a few questions a 530 million dollar budget might raise, it is clear this does not scratch the surface. Not because John Lee can’t read the budget, but because there is probably too much to read. The background information on all the expenditures must be voluminous. It does not follow that fairly regular people of rather limited finances and financial savvy serving on the council, would have any clue whatsoever how to assemble a budget of nearly 50 million dollars a month, track and discriminate reasons for the budget numbers and monitor waste, by deeper analysis of costs of programs etc. and fraud, being self-explanatory, on a 12,000 dollar a year stipend they are perhaps not to spend on their own livelihoods while trying to sort out this huge task. Doesn’t the fix of raising taxes each year make people automatic republicans in a begrudging sense who would say, “spend less money”? This is all just an exercise in talking. I’m sure the whole thing will bumble along anyway, there are no real honest brokers in this game when it comes to fixing it, it is beyond the abilities. Don’t mean to be negative sounding on the finances, but too many competing, lobbying, legal hands in the pocket to stop the train any time soon.

  • Quentin Dreher

    PC too, there were a few financially competent people running for CC. Unfortunately for Bridgeport it didn’t work out. And yes it can be as easy as spending less. But that means making difficult choices and decisions without cronyism.

  • Brick

    I’d also like to see the OATs man do a review on the BOE budget to actuals as well.

    $.50 on the dollar are going to these people, yet I never hear how they are moving to control spending or offsetting costs while improving the education system in the city.

    Let’s be honest here. Of the one half operating budget remaining after the BOE cut, nearly half of that are fixed costs, i.e. bond obligations, pension obligations, contracts, etc. This leaves 25% of the budget as truly having flexibility.

    Of that, the largest portion is salary expense where the average fringe is over 60% so every $100k salary will actually cost $160k. Yet concessions are always geared at unions where members are making $30, $40 or even $50k. There are to many chiefs and not enough Indians in the city government right now. Director-level appointments need a serious trimming.

    The PILOT program is a joke. See how much the largest landlord in the city pays in PILOT taxes. The housing authority pays slightly over $150k in TOTAL, yet has over 5000 residential units. Most of which are the source of the violence which has resulted in increased police overtime. This agency is run by a joker from Indiana who was hired to deunionize and promote section 3. No one in housing has a development background, so they give away prime real estate right next to Steelpointe and expect us to believe anyone will be foolish enough to pay $300k for a condo in Bridgeport when 20% of his neighbors are public housing units. The developer front-loads his deal for a quick payback. I hope the council denies their second phase request.

    Lastly, anyone ever go to city hall to pay their taxes? You would think that should be the shortest line in all government. Yet there are never more than two people there and the line is an hour deep. That’s the FIRST thing that can and should be fixed. Help me to help you, Joe!

  • John Marshall Lee

    You raise multiple good points for deeper work to find the real story where adjustments are necessary. I disagree with some of your number values but that is something we can discuss in person if you wish, 203-259-9642.

    Regarding the BOE financial picture, I have started from the premise they have presented their operating budget and keep it current on the internet; it includes employment numbers (that the City has ignored and fudged regularly in its Operating Budget reporting); and included grants info that often is difficult to present in similar fashion (and so the City side ignores the opportunity to share how the City is awarded grant money, and then fails to appropriately report, thus losing out on REIMBURSEMENTS for funds they actually spent and would have received had they been fully compliant; and in my opinion the Finance Committee meetings of the BOE provide more evidence of elected representatives attempting to get their minds around the fiscal issues necessary to operate the school system and the hard decisions consequent (whereas I have not seen such inquiry and learning on the part of any Budget and Appropriations session I have witnessed in years). Finally, when you look at the BOE Chief Financial Officer who has been a responsible party for the past five years or so, like the information or not, she is professional, credible, and an exponent of OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT at a time where the message may not be pleasant or palatable. But she is doing such a better job in the light than the group that left the field as “Finch team” who never liked to play “under the lights.” Only now can we see the stats that made us nervous and made them untrustworthy to the voters. What will the Ganim group do for us fans in that regard? Eliminate FOI around fiscal questions? Unlock the doors to the Finance Section at City Hall? Assist the City Council in strengthening that body’s ability to intelligently and appropriately respond to matters referred to their subcommittees by having real legislative assistance staff to research, support constituent inquiry and strengthen City check and balance structure? Time will tell.

  • Jimfox

    The city Council should spend the money for a Comprehensive Financial Audit, ASAP!

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