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Priority Is The Battle Cry As Council Prepares Budget Vote

May 3rd, 2016 · 13 Comments · City Budget, City Council, Education, Law Enforcement, News and Events

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.

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13 Comments so far ↓

  • Frank Gyure

    There are NO good decisions here. It’s a question of possibly the least bad decisions. At a recent community meeting, I advocated filing Chapter IX Bankruptcy which would force the city AND THE STATE to deal with the fiscal revenue crisis.

    • Phil Smith

      By law the City cannot file for Chapter IX bankruptcy without the consent of the state. Nor would it qualify if it did file.

      • Frank Gyure

        Phil Smith, most respectfully. Suppose you extrapolate a bit and start adding funds or programs that Bridgeport SHOULD be doing. Add in the funds New Haven and Hartford are spending per student and where that takes the BOE budget. Look at the Capital Spending request Ganim has proposed. The capital budget will add millions to future city budgets. Look at the collapsing Housing infrastructure of the housing inventory in Bridgeport. How close are we to property owners abandoning and walking away from properties? Look at the real estate sales and see how many are properties owned by banks. Look at the real estate prices. How much needs to be spent in this city for the next ten years to reverse 30-40 years of industrial flight that eviscerated the fiscal calculations for this city? A bankruptcy would also force the State of Connecticut to make tough decisions, which they are ignoring, about how local and state government is funded.

  • Phil Smith

    The City’s entire approach to budgeting is flawed and needs to reformed.

  • Bob Walsh

    To Phil’s point, the city should seek permission from the state to bond for the deficit (this would force the city to make an honest assessment of what the deficit truly is) and that would be a trigger for imposing the Financial Review Board.
    It would knock the city out of the bond market for some time but it would provide a truly independent set of eyes over the city finance departments.

    • Local Eyes

      Bonding the deficit is the ultimate loser’s strategy. The best strategy is growth without debt.

    • Ron Mackey

      Bob, I’ve always though that was the proper move to make but Finch and now Ganim II are too proud to seek state help because they think it makes them look like losers.

  • Phil Smith

    Bob, you are assuming this governor and Legislature would agree to it, which seems highly unlikely to me.

    • Local Eyes

      Forget about the GA and Malloy. Mayor Ganim and bond counsel Stafstrom would never endorse a plan that advocates a Financial Review Board and removes Bridgeport from the bond market. The bond market is their “escape valve” to raise spending, keep promises and avoid a tax increase. When it’s time to kick the can, float bonds.

  • Maria Pereira

    We are organizing parents to stand at their schools at dismissal time with fliers in English/Spanish informing them if their City Council members voted to adopt a budget that has a zero increase for their children’s education.

    Joe Ganim is featured on every flier with the City Council votes blank for now. The portion of the flier dedicated to Joe Ganim is based on his campaign promises around “working together to find creative ways to fund our schools.”

    We will start in my backyard at Thomas Hooker and JFK.

    You have $21 million for the BPD but not even $5 million for over 21,000 children. I can understand not receiving $15 million but absolutely nothing? We will have to lay off 156 employees, the vast majority of whom deal directly with children. Outrageous!

    Politicians MUST be held to their campaign promises.

    There are three things you never mess with. They are as follows:
    - Someone’s money/finances
    - Someone’s religion
    - SOMEONE’S CHILDREN

    These elected representatives must be exposed and held accountable.

    We will hit my side of town before the school year ends and the other side of town will be addressed when school returns.

    We must work to educate the masses.

    • John Marshall Lee

      Maria,
      I have in my hand a VOTE JOE GANIM sticker, Thomas Gaudett, Treas. Approved by Joe Ganim that shouts in white lettering on a red stop sign backing STOP RAISING TAXES! That was in September 2015 at primary time.
      That was before he knew the extent of Finch’s fiscal deceptions, also. But by failing to identify or follow priorities with cogent explanations, Joe Ganim has left us worse off in too many ways. Trust but verify is what we have been asked to do, and we cannot verify many things as the City is playing with OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE, TRANSPARENT and HONEST it seems, though they ran on that too.
      Will the neighborhoods be happy to find private investors getting the City to make an investment but have no interest in the project? Or be concerned whether such investor-suggested development will cost more in expense than is raised in tax revenue? Is this the best use of capital development wish lists? Time will tell.

  • Local Eyes

    Let’s start with you.
    While Maria Pereira is picketing dismissal, I will be volunteering at Lighthouse, where educating the masses happens one child at a time.

  • John Marshall Lee

    LE,
    Happy you are volunteering to further the education of children who have fewer advantages than the average child in neighboring communities. However, Lighthouse has been serving fewer than 3,000 of Bridgeport’s school children for years now with about $2.5 Million coming from the City budget and parent/family fees. Then the program also receives another couple million from the State or other grants.
    Your work for Lighthouse is commendable. One child, one day at a time. So is that of other volunteers for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and SVA as well as recreational and tutoring programs like Burroughs-Wakeman, etc. But where is the oversight of Lighthouse financially such that back in the day Mayor Finch placed his “education czar” from New Jersey in that budget when his bid to appoint BOE members went sideways? What are the service indicators? By the service numbers it would seem other programs are working with more kids and with fewer resources. More effective and more efficient? Perhaps time will tell.

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