What’s in the city budget and who’s getting paid? City fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee provides a primer to City Council members where taxpayer money is spent–in case councilors are not paying attention–in his latest address to the budget and legislative body.
Money makes the world go around, and that is true for Bridgeport, too. However, the local resident pays less than half the current and bonded expenses for a number of reasons, and yet feels overtaxed and underserved while watching property taxes increase and residential and other property values decrease.
The operating budget for the City is around $525 Million including education, but when all State and Federal revenues are included the annual revenues spent on government for one year may exceed $670 Million. (There is no regular report provided by the City to show the revenues from all sources, or the employee positions in all programs or the trends from year to year as well as the variances within a year.)
The City has a Capital Budget as well that looks at the coming year plus four into the future. In 2013 the Mayor sought $29 Million in his cover letter though the charts showed only $26 Million for 22 projects in that year. In 2014 the Mayor proposed over $35 Million for 33 projects. The current year shows about $42 Million requested (though the requests shows ADOPTED) for 31 items, but the single page shows no history of recent-year decisions, completions, changes and sources of funds for the Capital Budget. There is no update available to taxpayers throughout the year even though the City Council is charged to “solicit ideas” on the subject from a broad range of persons and to hold an annual public hearing. Why is this not done?
Actual salaries are recorded in payroll records not otherwise available for review publicly. However, a summary of line item 51000 “FULL TIME EARNED PAY” is the closest to tracking actual earnings available to the public but confirmation from OPM or Finance would be suggested before making such assumption.
And benefits are paid on behalf of people in groups for insurance, retirement plans, and unemployment, Medicare and Social Security.
The City purchasing department has processes it follows with attention to the necessary integrity of their work. Here you will find a multitude of expenditures ranging from armored personnel carriers to coffee at Dunkin Donuts, from legal notice expenses to newspapers to catering by Tiago’s, from settlements of legal case claims to $8,000 per month payments to outside legal counsel, Ed Maley, from legal expenses for a variety of services to Pullman, Comley LLC running almost $500,000 annually to playground and park development expenses totaling $8.7 Million in the fall of 2014 from two out-of-state firms. (Look at the activity at Blackham School and consider what $1,250,000 may be producing. And look for similar activity at Marin, Puglio and Columbus locations that would be receiving the rest of $5,169,000 of funding contracted with the Cal Ripken Foundation.
Where were those plans reviewed, decisions made and ratified by City Council, and how many City jobs are funded even on a short-term basis? Most importantly what is the source of the money for these projects? Annual operating budget? Not seen in current Parks, Recreation, or other Department budgets! Capital approvals? Not seen in current or past two year adopted projects? All from grants to the City? Money of this kind would have caused a real splash and PR effort if funded by a grant. Therefore, unlikely. Bonding? But don’t projects like these need to get City Council approval?
What is the story when it seems difficult to explain all of the new things done in the City and tie the activities, the services and the “stuff” to how we are paying for them? Time will tell.