UPDATE: Includes mayor’s proposed budget
What a difference a year makes. Mayor Bill Finch Monday night proposed a city budget that calls for a 2.7 mil increase representing a budget hike of $24 million including $7 million more for city schools after flatlining school spending the prior three years. The mayor announced, under his proposal, the average homeowner would see an additional tax hit of more than $400 and his own home about $600, as well as additional car taxes. City Council members, reacting with disbelief at the tax hike proposal, say they will find ways to cut back the tax hit.
The mayor presented his roughly $518 million spending plan to the City Council Monday night. Council members say they were not briefed about the budget in advance. One year ago the mayor’s office was quick to kick out a news release touting his budget proposal that called for no tax increase in an election year. This year, the start of his second four-year term, was a much different story. City officials were so underground about sharing tidbits about this spending plan that moles were running for cover.
Tonight (Tuesday) at 6 in City Council chambers the mayor begins the first in a series of public meetings selling his spending proposal to residents as he gears up a public outreach campaign to persuade voters to approve mayoral appointment of Board of Education members on the November ballot. A big tax hit will make it that much harder to sell. Still, this is the beginning of the budget process that could see council members scaling back the mayor’s spending plan that includes additional contributions toward pension obligations he has put off in the past to avoid tax increases.
The mayor announced Monday night he had rejected investment in city schools the past several years because the administrative atmosphere was not worthy; but, he claimed, with new Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas in place, with extensive experience turning around troubled districts, “Now is a really good time to invest in education.”
In addition to more education spending the mayor’s budget adds roughly $6 million more for pension contributions and millions more for city employee salaries and health care costs.
As the mayor takes his budget on the road, the City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee begins the process to see what stays and what goes over the next month. The full council votes on the budget in May before going back to the mayor for possible veto action. The council will set a final mil rate in June. OIB spoke to several council members Monday night. All of them promised cuts to the mayor’s budget. Either way, hunker down for a large tax hit.
John Gomes, 2011 mayoral candidate and former director of the city’s government efficiency CitiStat Program, said of Finch’s proposed budget increase, “It’s insane. People all over the city whether homeowners or businesses are struggling and now it’s even worse. Residents are packing their bags.”
Finch issued a lengthy budget transmittal letter Monday night, in part:
In addition to generating revenues for the City through aggressive tax collection and economic development, I am also proposing that we generate the revenue necessary to make an historic investment in our education system, public safety, and infrastructure through a 2.7 mil increase. For the average resident in Bridgeport who currently pays $6,200 in taxes, this equals a $424 increase, roughly $35 per month. As a homeowner myself, I understand that this is not easy. I can, however ensure Bridgeport residents that this increase will be wisely invested to stabilize and grow our City. It is also worth noting, that the bulk of this 2.7 mil increase is attributed to our pension obligations.
I have proven to you over the last four years, that I will spend your tax dollars with the utmost responsibility. The City of Bridgeport will do everything in our power to ensure that your tax dollars are being used properly to invest in our collective future.
Read mayor’s entire remarks here.
Mayor’s budget here.