Bridgeport-based law firm Pullman & Comley’s 20-year run as city bond counsel led by partner John Stafstrom will continue, according to City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer who says the firm submitted the strongest and least expensive proposal after the city solicited price proposals for upcoming bond counsel services from qualified firms in Connecticut.
“We felt their proposal was the best for the taxpayers and they are a Bridgeport firm,” said Meyer. “It is of the utmost importance to myself and Mayor Ganim to make decisions for the ultimate benefit of the taxpayer not politics.”
It doesn’t hurt that Stafstrom, former Democratic town chair, also has a strong relationship with Governor Dan Malloy, something Ganim will need to maximize state financial support for the city as he tries to close a current year budget gap while building the next budget for the year beginning July 1. The General Assembly heads into session next month. Stafstrom’s nephew Steve Stafstrom is a member of the State House where relationships are also key to drive home state dollars.
Pullman & Comley was first appointed bond counsel under Joe Ganim and remained there through the John Fabrizi and Bill Finch mayoral years. Stafstrom, a mighty fundraiser, supported the reelection bid of Finch who lost to Ganim in the Democratic primary. Stafstrom then backed petitioning candidate Mary-Jane Foster in the general election that Ganim won handily.
The City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee at a meeting Monday night were also informed that Pullman & Comley will stay on as bond counsel, a specialized area of legal practice that provides guidance in structuring financial and development transactions.
City fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee attended the session and provides this report:
A mostly attentive group of 10 current City Council members including all seven members of the Budget and Appropriations Committee were present for that monthly session last evening. Three items were on their Agenda:
· Minutes of the December 2015 meeting were tabled for corrections.
· A review of the November monthly financial report, in an executive summary format with VARIANCES indicated that produce a likely projected deficit of $20 Million by June 2016
· Bonding Resolution that would approve refunding of some existing bonds and the issuance of $6.25 Million in new bonds from the previously authorized Capital budget of $42 Million.
In addition to Council members and their recording clerk, Nestor Nkwo, Ken Flatto and Bill Fazzioli (sp?) were present to provide fiscal commentary on the latter two items in the face of many basic questions about specific revenue or expense line items. However there was no general question as to what G2 administration has in mind to deal with the huge deficit despite the presence of Mayoral representatives, Roach, DePara, and (Tom) Gaudett.
The bonding resolution, if adopted by the City Council at its next meeting will allow as much as $3 Million to be saved this year in operating budget by the City, with another $3 Million next year and into the future, without extending the repayment calendar any longer than they are today. So far, so good, it seems. Relative to the items selected for new funding including Public Facilities $2 Million, Fire Department $1,250 Million, Economic Development $750,000 (mostly for land acquisition) and Police Department $2,250 Million (mostly for fleet upgrade and re-equipping cars) the members were reminded at least three times by member Brantley that while running for office, Ganim had promised sidewalk repairs. The discussion allowed those assembled to increase Public Facilities funding for Paving/Culverts/Intersections by $500,000 with an amendment.
No question was raised as to what this added sum would cost in the new budget year 2016-17. No question or comment was raised about the continuation of using 20-year bonding to fund vehicles that last only 3-5 years per City budget policy. No specific question was raised in how a large transfer of OPED funds ($750,000 or greater) was made without their knowledge in “late 2015.” Where were those funds applied? By whom? (There was a request for presentations from finance in the future to be paginated.) But there was no request that the status of all Capital Accounts be part of a regular report to the B&A group! Why not?
Pullman, Comley will be the new, as well as former, City bond counsel based on their response to the recent request that brought forth a good number of responses. Flatto was questioned as to why the bond counsel was not present and responded that at $300 per hour or whatever a specific professional may charge, he is aware and concerned with such expenses and tries to avoid such when possible. (That was an unusual comment to hear. As the sole ‘taxpayer’ representative in the meeting room I applauded him for common sense.) Look for more of that behavior in the future.
Perhaps the most revealing discussion dealt with the Monthly Financial Report. A revenue item, Police Outside Overtime Reimbursement, was budgeted in error by $1 Million. Have you always heard that this line item produces a profit for the City? Well it seems that it does not any longer since the Police Department contract moved to MERS. The State is requiring a 20-year amortization of past service costs close to $5 Million annually in addition to lump sums transferred to the State from Plan B assets several years ago. And that is not all, because we are also paying $300,000 per month currently to the State extra for the amount of Overtime currently getting rung up. That gets us to the $8,700,000 deficit for Police pensions showing up under Health Benefit Administration, rather than in the Police Department budget where I will argue, it belongs.
What it means at the moment is the undermanned, and seemingly over-administered Police Department, while having to deal with serious issues of public safety daily, is costing ever more to taxpayers. Who is studying that issue with a long-term plan in mind? When can it be shared with the public and monitored by review of certain City line items in the monthly report? Does traffic control for outside contractors today require what has been in place for 40 years, or is there a simpler and more just solution that would provide jobs, benefits and training to a new and different group of City residents? Time will tell.