The City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee will likely vote on Mayor Joe Ganim’s spending plan by Saturday. The full council will then stamp its approval either Monday or Tuesday in a special meeting. As the committee prepares a vote members are examining the Police Department for a potential cut. Ganim’s budget provides the largest increase to public safety. The budget committee is also eyeing an increase to school spending that was flat-funded by the mayor.
Citizen fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee addressed the full council Monday night questioning “Where are your priorities?” From Lee:
It’s a tough fiscal year all around. Just think about Hartford that is facing a $961 Million projected deficit on a $19 Billion annual budget. Big numbers, right? To get balanced they must sit down with legislators from all parties, and parts of the State, including small towns and what we call big cities. But only 5% or so needs to be cut to get to balance? That shouldn’t be hard, should it? What will they do with funds in your budget?
What are the Council budget priorities this year? A revaluation has made everyone nervous and the administration knows that. Perhaps that is why City publicists are saying that 60% of taxpayers will make lower tax payments this year. Does that mean that the other 40% will pay the added $28 Million if you do no cutting and no adding? How will that go down? Will taxpayers remain “a silent majority” by the time next Council and Mayoral elections are due?
Perhaps it is not the problem of a “silent majority” but rather the fault of “silent priorities” on the part of City Hall and your body that causes resentment and public anger. You know people hate taxes in any case but when property owners reflect on the decreases in home values in the City represented by the $1 Billion Net Taxable Grand List reduction this year they will be unhappy.
You are faced with what your advisor calls a 5.3% increase relative to last year’s entire budget. However, when you remove Education, Food service for education and Other BOE, you eliminate $259 Million from the $560 Million total. Since the BOE request of $15 Million received no practical recognition from the Mayor’s budget, Mayor Ganim has presented more than a 9% actual increase on the City side. Did you recognize that fact?
As you do your “white board” cost cutting this year, please use honest numbers. On Saturday as you attempted to look at the most expensive budgets you posted Police Department budget as $53.6 Million annually. Unfortunately your budget book shows the PD in ten divisions and you were only including Police Administration. The CT Post included a similar mistake on Page 1 this morning. The PD actually is projected to spend about $106 Million this coming year along with $65 Million for Fire if nothing is changed by you. Have you looked at Page 114 where PD Service Indicators are posted? Do you recognize that actual results for the past five years have been decreasing for the most part in calls, violent crimes, and arrest indicators? Maybe the numbers need to be reviewed by the “top brass” perhaps over present in the department or as consultants? Is there a slimmer equally effective model?
Have you completed a review of what has been spent on supportive contributions where some cuts may be in order? For revenues why not add the fees paid by Lighthouse parents for after-school and summer programs so that you can measure all results against resources spent? And what about asking for active employment numbers by every department each month? Open? Transparent? Honest? You cannot expect it unless you ask for it, can you? The Airport has operated for at least 8 years now at deficits of hundreds of thousands. What is the economic justification of forcing this subsidy on taxpayers who receive no public transportation benefit and where business or avocational flying is for the wealthy of other communities?
The Mayor provided a State of the City talk on March 3, but it did not deal with spending or funding priorities. More recent public comments also ignored priorities. If you fail as Council in setting priorities, where are your constituents left? Perhaps you must use a big knife and just cut 6-7% and then see what the Mayor and his team will do. They have cut about 60 people so far but also added a similar number. That is not real cost cutting. More change will occur. But that is management’s problem and layoffs will be likely. But they will be more difficult without priorities.
The “red rubber boots” are still here. Keep that in mind when approving Capital budget “wish lists” and operating budget increases. Our City Fund balance that should be over $40 Million with a FY2017 budget of this size is less than 30% that size today. It may drop into single digits or be wiped out at year end due to the last Finch budget that you approved last year. Where are your priorities? Do 22,000 school youth who live in Bridgeport figure in your priorities? Time will tell.