Mayor Puts On Bright Face, Highlights Accomplishments, Braces For Beastly Budget–Will Malloy Step Up For Bridgeport?

Bill Finch took office as mayor of Connecticut’s largest city in December of 2007. Assuming he fills out this second four-year term he will become one of the longest-serving mayors in city history surpassed only by Republican Clifford Wilson, Democrat Joe Ganim and Socialist Jasper McLevy. The budget Finch will soon propose to the City Council will arguably be his most difficult with so many unknowns because the city is largely a slave to the state legislative process in Hartford that decides the city’s share of the pie.

Roughly 40 percent of the city’s general fund revenues, according to city bean counters, comes from the state. A dip here and there and well, it’s a budgetary nightmare.

The mayor on Tuesday put on his brightest public face–it’s his nature–to the regional business community puffing optimism in the face of an upcoming dire budget he’ll propose to the City Council. The reality is can you remember the last mayor who stepped before this group and screamed the economy sucks, the governor’s budget proposal sucks, city development has lagged beyond expectation, we’re getting screwed and everyone’s gotta take a bite out of a turd sandwich?

Be it Joe Ganim, John Fabrizi or Finch–mayors for the past 20 years–they all preen optimistically. A lot of it is crap, but you posture because you’re standing before folks who either do business in the city or consider investing. You put on your brightest face in an effort to build enthusiasm.

You look around the city and there’s legitimate optimism Downtown with a resurgence in new housing, restaurants and cultural destinations–Webster Bank Arena, Harbor Yard, Downtown Cabaret, Bijou Theatre–as well as new school construction in neighborhoods and the potential of the long-awaited redevelopment of the city’s East Side at Steel Point where mega outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops plans its first urban enterprise. But the city’s progress, such as it is, is fragile.

Democratic Governor Dan Malloy has not yet stepped up with the force of his will to make things happen in Bridgeport, and in fact his state budget proposal strips revenues from the city. Malloy has directed a number of new businesses to Stamford where he served as mayor in his comfort zone, but nothing yet truly appreciable to Bridgeport beyond money for some housing initiatives. Governors can make a difference. Lowell Weicker, who served from 1991 to 1995, was a benevolent dictator on behalf of the city, engineering developments and directing new revenues to the city that started a period of 10 straights years without a tax increase.

But Finch must do his part as well to position the city for growth. In nearly five and a half years as mayor, what economic development projects can he truly call his own? They are Downtown with the housing development 333 State Street as well as the expansion of the Bijou Square development by Phil Kuchma that started under Fabrizi. The mayor has some other base hits here and there. If Bass Pro Shops happens it provides Finch a legacy.

The mayor’s office says Finch also deserves credit for a number of other initiatives such as:

— Reopening Pleasure Beach to the public–and pushing federal and state agencies to get the approvals needed to move forward.

— Advancing his BGreen 2020 plan forward, leading to businesses in the South End and West End, such as the mattress recycling factory, FLexipave and Bridgeport Biodiesel, as well as a partnership with Dominion and Fuel Cell Energy to build a fuel cell power plant in Bridgeport.

— Downtown North is moving forward with five developers ready to start work on repairing and redeveloping buildings.

— A new park on Knowlton Street in place of blighted buildings that recapture city’s waterfront.

— The greatest number of homes built in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity–turning blighted buildings into owner-occupied homes–and putting them back on the tax rolls.

The budget Finch proposes in early April will truly be a leap of faith, with so many unknowns that will play out in the state budgetary process.




  2. It’s not that tough if the Mayor gets serious and the Council does its job. You need to balance the operating budget without borrowing or raising taxes on existing property owners. Bridgeport hasn’t attempted a serious effort to restructure and cut costs. I attended several City Council sessions last year on the budget and the Council didn’t seem to know what to do. They just need to tell the Mayor they won’t approve a budget that raises taxes or borrows to cover operating costs. The Mayor is CEO and needs to figure out how to do so. It’s time for the City Council to start looking out for the taxpayers rather than providing cover for the Mayor.

  3. *** Time to use some city council legislative line-item money to hire an independent outside accounting firm, experienced in government budget planning to work with the B&A committee in achieving a balanced city budget this year, no? *** IT’S NOT TOO LATE! ***

    1. He is campaigning! For all of you AGENDA WATCHERS, he is campaigning for the TAXPAYER, a group that has not been responsibly represented by most of the elected Council members, if you have not noticed.

      As he has related on more than one occasion, Mr. Walker has spent time at Budget and Appropriation Committee meetings last year. He came away with no secure feeling the B&A group grasped the importance of their duty and responsibility. He watched last year’s budget approval in May that had millions of dollars of “ghost positions” funded. How could that happen if the B&A process was serious?

      And then he has seen the administration modify over 60 departmental accounts for Full Time Earned Pay (Line Item 51000) last September, 2012 with no narrative comment in that third month budget release in December. Since 2-3 B&A meetings in December and since were canceled, the B&A has not formally looked into that positive variance. The City Hall move freed that money from salaries for unfilled positions to be spent elsewhere. But where? Are you curious? Don’t you wish the City Council was equally curious? Would you like those expense, revenue and variance reports to be on line? Would you like them posted monthly on time, by the fourth Friday of the following month? Would you like Finance or OPM to report all variances they know about and provide the narrative? They are not doing these things, folks. How about transfers of money in this City? What are the rules? When does the City need to come back to the City Council? And, when will the Special Hearings on the Operating Budget be posted? And where is the Capital Budget that was due early this month according to the Charter?

      Too many questions? Or too few answers for these questions from our City Council members to whom the questions have been addressed frequently this year. Join with us for BOB – Budget Oversight Bridgeport. Call me at 203-259-9642. Invite another voter/taxpayer. Become a fiscal watchdog. After all it’s your money they are working with. Time will tell.

  4. One thing this city needs to consider is non-partisan municipal elections and going to a weak mayor form of government with the day-to-day activities run by a city manager.

    1. Among other things, we need to move to integrated and open primaries for all Bridgeport municipal elections. This should be examined along with a number of other reforms as part of a comprehensive Charter Review Commission the focuses on governance, financial and education issues.

      1. I’m sorry, but I am of the opinion if you are not a registered member of a political party then you cannot vote in a primary or for Town Committee, etc. Please explain your rationale.

      2. flubadub,
        Sorry for the typo in my prior post. I meant to say integrated and open primaries like they have in California. You don’t have Democratic or Republican primaries. All registered voters, including independent voters, would vote in a single combined primary and the top two vote-getters would run off in the general election irrespective of their party affiliation, if any.

        1. I’m sorry but I disagree with the premise. If you are not a member of my party, I do not see how you have a right/opportunity to decide who represents us. I would not be able to vote for the board of directors for the Black Rock Community Council or Home Owners Association unless I am a member, right? If I am not a stockholder I would not be able to vote for the directors of GE Corp., right? How does that differ from my opinion on political parties?

          1. About 40 percent of registered voters in CT and the US are independent and non-aligned voters. This percentage is growing and the two major political parties are losing market share. Current best practice is to go to integrated and open primaries. Parties can still endorse candidates, they can provide financial and human support to candidates of their choice, but there would be one consolidated primary every registered voter could participate in. California and other states have this system.

  5. Interesting bit of information–I heard a city clerk testify in Hartford to the Planning and Development committee in favor of a bill to purchase and use a new software program to be used state wide. This new software seemed to be with regard to the data regarding title and deed information. One of the Committee members hearing the testimony stated, if a town or city has 42% or more of their operating budget from the state, and there are a lot of cities that have that much state tax dollars, there is a specific type of accounting software they must use and report to the state for record keeping and use of funds tracking. I just do not see the City of Bridgeport allowing the budget to be at 42% or more of state funds for that reason.

  6. To answer your question, Lennie. Malloy will step up for Bridgeport (or give that impression) at least 12 months before the day of his next election campaign. Let’s hope city leaders have grown to be men by that time.

  7. Joel,
    Your comment supports the fact career politicians are not the people who will state the whole truth, take on the special interests and make the tough choices needed to create a better future.


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