City fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee stepped up to the podium at the City Council meeting Monday night to remind members not to spend too much time sunning on the beach.
Council members, the capital and operating budgets have been set. Summer will soon be here. Is it time to kick back and party?
Police appropriations have risen significantly with expectation of 100 trainees. How can that be accommodated through Civil Service selection, recruiting process and training times, weapons training in the next year? Is there a real need for almost 490 personnel in the Bridgeport PD in 2016-17? And why did the budget paperwork you received have such obvious distortions, but particularly so, in the Police Department? What separate detailed report will you ask for to see how and where variances are appearing month by month in the coming fiscal year? That is what a financial review board would be looking for I feel certain.
When you break the Police Department into ten different divisions as if every division is a separate department, and fail to provide overall department totals or a management chart, what can you believe? When an entire unit (Narcotics and Vice) is missing from the data presented, is there any question as to careful preparation to help you understand the material? When the number of vacancies in the PD is shown as 17 and the public is left assuming that over 460 positions are filled, how honest is the material? What is happening to Pension Plan A?
In broader terms, where have you seen a listing of all City employees by Department with categories such as Full time employee, vacant, unfilled, as in the past? Where is staffing by grant employees shown? If Federal and State cutbacks become the order of the day, what choices will the Mayor and you have to make in terms of priorities? Will you have to wait for such info at the last moment when you are under time pressure for a decision to receive such? Isn’t it smarter to ask for such today?
I know some of you think these “red rubber boots” are a fanciful idea. And you laugh at them. And I laugh with you and offer them to Denese Taylor-Moye when we can once again operate in the black. But when can that be if you fail to monitor regularly that which you have approved? And how will you track Capital Budgets when there is currently no report submitted to you that shows the status of projects approved by past Councils in the recent five years? Are projects on time? Are they within budget or not?
What about transfers of funds, operating and capital? What is current City policy? If you do not know, ask your President to provide historical info as to when and why the last transfer was voted upon by the Council. It is likely that in spite of vigorous efforts, this year will end with a deficit. What will the City Fund Balance reduce to? Please review that process and policy in the Budget and CAFR volumes and understand we have not paid serious attention to this for more than ten years. Credit rating firms pay attention to the number.
Tonight you will be asked to look at an asset of the City, a parcel of land that perhaps has minimal or no real value to the City or golf course today. However, mindful that we have more liabilities and responsibilities than assets, are we making the best deal for the City long term? For example, have you received written research from professionals with showing that the values for such acreage is the highest we can ever expect? Isn’t the value of Open Space really in the use to which the buyer will put the land? As Council member Holloway stated last week, they are not making any more land. Hold onto it, or find a better way, and it may take more time than the Mayor’s office desires, to maximize our property values.
The City has been down this road with parkland and the results are not impressive. Today you should ask for a list of all City property and its value per the latest valuation. Then look at what agreement is in place, what City responsibilities are required on each property and what funds are derived from activities and where is the money flowing. Is that something good watchdogs might consider?
What have you to say about the difficult decisions the BOE must make because of “level funding” for 22,000 students handed from Mayor Ganim and approved by you? Other shoes will drop shortly, but to keep your feet dry, remember the “red fiscal condition” of Bridgeport and “the red rubber boots” as memorable symbols. Time will tell.