Searching For Light In Sherwood’s Budget Forest–Can A Tax Hit Be Avoided?

Robin Hood
Is there a bullseye in the budget?

During the Joe Ganim mayoral years (November 1991 to April 2003) the city’s fund balance, or financial reserve, grew to more than $50 million that represented the city’s relatively sturdy financial position that included 10 straight years without a tax increase. In the last 10 years the fund balance has been raided on several occasions in the name of lessening tax hits. The city’s reserve is now in the $10 million range. With taxpayers screaming for tax relief will the City Council dip into the fund balance once again as it prepares to vote on a spending plan? What are the repercussions for raiding the fund balance once more?

Typically Wall Street bond rating agencies want a municipal fund balance to reflect at least 10 percent of its total general fund budget. The city’s fund balance is well below that percentage. You raid it more and you risk a downgrade by Wall Street which is never good for the borrowing power of a municipality. As the city’s cash flow has floundered it has become common, in lieu of a mighty fund balance, to issue short-term tax anticipation notes to cover operating expenses. You borrow to pay expenses. As tax revenue arrives the notes are paid off with interest.

Critics of the city’s budget-making process such as financial watchdogs John Marshall Lee and David Walker, the former U.S. Comptroller General, have on numerous occasions on OIB highlighted areas of the budget that can be pruned (police overtime, outside legal fees, patronage positions) to reduce spending. In addition, Walker says, “The City has almost $1 billion in unfunded retiree health obligations. They are unreasonable, unaffordable and unsustainable and need to be dramatically restructured.”

Lee and Walker have engaged several members of the City Council in recent weeks to urge an independent review of the budget outside city bean counters led by budget director Tom Sherwood whose office of Policy and Management builds the city’s spending plan. Navigating Sherwood’s budgetary forest to a layperson on the council is like trying to emerge from the darkness. Sherwood knows his budget better than anyone on the planet. He can be extraordinarily convincing in rationalizing budget decisions, the good, bad and ugly.

Lee, Walker and others are trying to arm council members with searchlights of information to ask questions, challenge assumptions and add some backbone to the city’s legislative and budget-making body in the cause of serving as a check on the executive branch largely elusive the past two decades.

You talk to individual council members and almost to a person they’ll say we cannot raise taxes again. Then you ask them what are you willing to cut and they’re short on answers. They are also mindful this is an election year for them.

Raiding the fund balance has been a convenient safety valve in lieu of cutting expenses. Will the council do it again?



  1. “He is extraordinarily convincing in rationalizing budget decisions.” In other words, he lies through his teeth to a City Council who doesn’t know any better or if they did, were afraid to risk their City jobs to ask a question. Adding Marella is one more guaranteed “yes” vote.

    Funny when Bill Finch was running for office, he promised his supporters Tom Sherwood would be the first to go. His supporters were wise to Sherwood’s forest. Yet when Finch became mayor, he backed down. Was this because Tom Sherwood has a way of making himself indispensable to an administration? Sherwood can after all find money for patronage jobs. He can bond/borrow money for the mayor’s pet projects. He can make funding go away and force the layoffs of career employees. He can budget ghost positions, use the money elsewhere and then fix it at the end of the year so no one is the wiser. He can make it look like the City is millions in the red to force union concessions. Then he can turn the negative into a positive during an election year. Yes, that Sherwood is a mighty handy guy to have around.

    1. Fixer,
      You should forward a copy of this posting to the FBI. If what you allege is true, I can think of at least six federal laws that have been broken. Additionally, the circumspect manner in which the current administration deliberately and with malice schemed to deny a professional livelihood to career city employees is simply and unarguably prima facie civil rights discrimination. Send the email. We deserve better.

      1. Emails have been sent. Lawyers have been retained. Lawsuits have been filed. Soon they will begin paying out with your tax dollars. Ralph Jacobs received a handsome amount. Tom White is next. Many more to come.

  2. *** Raiding the fund balance; “damned if you do and damned if you don’t!” Does the city budget plan for the long term or short term as they’ve been doing; or do they really have a choice anymore? All depends on which “budget” Tom decides on finally using in the end to appease everyone, no? ***

  3. Sherwood is a master at pulling off what he is paid very well to do. He is the last one to blame, he is a good soldier.
    When you work a graveyard shift as I do, one has many hours in the dark to do their job. Sherwood does his in broad daylight, and he does it well.

  4. Front page of this morning’s CT Post says Sherwood was warned via email (which the Post obtained by FOI) from the State Dept of Education that according to the law, Bridgeport would have to increase the education budget by 3.3 million. Sherwood’s email response was, “where does the … increase come from?” Well anyone who has been in a non-pubic budget meeting with Sherwood knows what he really said. I surmise it went more like this: “where does the … _ucking increase come from? I don’t take orders from the _ucking State. This is my _ucking city! I do what I _ucking want!”

    When the State Dept of Education received the supposedly non-compliance email from Sherwood, they were concerned and emailed Mayor Finch. City Council members: your mayor and budget director knew about the $3.3 million yet they failed to include it in the budget. Now Sherwood will do his best to “rationalize” his budget decisions. DO NOT BE FOOLED. These are the types of things Sherwood has been hiding from you for years. Bring in a financial expert. Better yet, bring is a TEAM of financial experts because that’s what it will take to unravel the lies and deception we call Sherwood’s Forest.

  5. Where does good fortune culminate in prison terms?
    Answer: Only in Bridgeport

    Regular attendees at Bridgeport cocktail parties know The Park City actually benefited from the collapse of the Savings & Loan industry in the early 1990s. Some of those bankers might be readers here now (Bush 41 was their hero). Bailout money poured into Bridgeport as an entire class of government securities was invented to offset, overcome and replace the equity capital lost in the S&L failure. After a sharp rise, crime was on the decline. Bush 41 swept the problem under a rug while Bush 43 chose to pass the cost onto taxpayers, hurting Bridgeport in ways that can be measured in foreclosures, blight and empty storefronts.
    But during the ’90s, Bridgeport’s tax revenue was helped by the infusion of Federal money. Uncle Sam was borrowing heavily and nobody seemed concerned. Was it good politics or good fortune that swelled the city’s fund balance? That’s the kind of thing bloggers debate, but I know this: Bush 41’s tactics were fantastic for Bridgeport while Bush 43’s legacy still lingers.

  6. “No clue” Sue Brannelly, Co-chair B&A

    “It was mentioned to us as a logistic, non-issue that needed to be ironed out.”

    Start selling your homes in Black Rock ASAP.

    1. Isn’t it ironic Tom Bucci is now representing former city employees in their wrongful termination lawsuits? Former Mayor must be shaking his head … all the way to the bank. I wonder where the settlements are buried in Sherwood’s forest.

  7. JML and I have spent the last three years attending budget hearings and collecting budget data through FOI. The one thing that is painfully obvious is the B & A really has no say over what is happening to the budget. They do not cut anyone/s budget, they do not require Sherwood to provide certain budget information at the time of budget presentations. Sherwood’s stock answer is I’ll get the information you want and get back to you. Well I doubt that ever happens.
    The budget committee goes through the motions and wastes their time having these hearings that produce nothing. One department head when questioned about (his or her) budget numbers stated these numbers were not familiar.
    When the budget finally gets trimmed it won’t be by the B & A committee, it will be by Sherwood and no one else.

  8. Department heads should be responsible for the work, the results of their work for the public and the cost of the resources employed to achieve the results. But that is not the way it works in the City. Tom Sherwood (and a select few) assemble most of the info in the budget. He tells Department leaders he will insert the numbers. So whose priorities are served? Can anyone make an argument the efforts are targeted on certain achievement, or just some vague “conceptual qualities” that do not admit of serious quantitative evaluation? Can you see now how the unfamiliarity of the CC 20 members with the annual CAFR including the Management Letter to the City Council or City Audit Committee leaves them genuinely blind to the big picture? Since they have refused during Finch’s term to use the $90,000 of budgeted funds titled Other Expense to secure some independent review and opinion they have no idea of the trends that increase our obligations. Because they allow City Hall to provide them with less revelatory monthly financial reports and because those reports are late, can they begin to be a dependable check or balance? A genuine watchdog? Who governs? It is the man in the Mayor’s office who will take credit for insignificant movement of certain projects, while assigning blame to any or everyone else on the big issues. The only good thing to be seen this year is a larger number of City Council members know they have nowhere to hide and no one to blame except themselves for listening to the “siren of Bridgeport” telling them what they want to hear, rather than what the Charter calls them to do.

    How can you honestly put a budget together and be an active and functioning part of the City process if you know so little? Yet that is one of the two primary tasks of the Council. Forgive me if you feel insulted, but there are only 2-3 people on the Council who have bothered to pick up enough info over some years to ask good questions. And who will demand more accountability and appropriate info and reporting from the City? Time will tell.

  9. It looks like the Archer’s English Style Pale Ale is way off target! Not good for what ails us!!!

    Special thanks to JML and ACF for all their years of hard work.

  10. *** OFF TOPIC: Bpt State Legislators need to step up and voice an opinion one way or another on the J. Hennessy bill. Even though it appears those legislators who are either ex-city council members and/or city employees and Finch supporters will not vote for this bill; they should state why! Voter awareness needs to happen come election time to be sure these seat warmers do not return. *** TIME TO REMEMBER ***


Leave a Reply