As the City Council closes in on a budget vote, citizen fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee shared some thoughts Monday night with the budget and legislative body.
Council members, greetings. I mean that sincerely because you have at least one historic decision facing you shortly … that is the approval of an Operating Budget for the City.
You reviewed the Capital budget as you do each year. I notice that one or more of you voiced a complaint this year similar to one I have made in the past. Where is a 10-year report listing all the incomplete capital projects that were once approved by previous councils? Such a list would be organized by authorization year, then a department code, and finally a project name. Other info could be included in a brief description, noting geographic, technical, or other factors or assumptions considered. Over the years the amount funded through a bond issue, when activity begins, and hopefully becomes complete, within budget, or not. But you have a reference to the initial Capital budget approval (and so does the public) as well as the development over time and the priorities represented by action. Is that a better way to render informed decisions?
Other City issues require monitoring and review. Can you do that without tools?? What information do you routinely receive that informs you as to any City-side grant funds, especially those that support salaries for personnel? In your review with the Library and BOE, questions were asked about whether the BOE had sought grants funds. That shows you are aware of potential sources, but use no formal, accessible information for you to prepare. The BOE does post such info on line with the balance of their financial info. But the Finance Department has no comparable tool regarding the City available to you and to taxpayers. Why not? If you ask for such, would it become available because of the campaign pledges of open and accountable?
Did you notice how rapidly the concept of purchasing the Catholic Center for potential school siting has taken hold? School renovation while limiting funding of what goes on within those walls? And I then ask myself, how is it possible that the sale of certain harbor front property is kept secret from the public at the same moment? No more such property is currently being created. Official property owners have been ignored by the mayor’s office. The values of property being transferred have not been addressed publicly in an open process. The entire routine shows the City of Bridgeport, hijacking an independent authorized body, more than eight years ago and continuing to run the entity without posting any financial reports. How can that be? This was an agency that had its own independent attorney and accounting firm to keep track of business. The last administration “converted” it almost to a City department (but without posting any relevant fiscal information, responsible professionals were terminated). Ganim2 has continued the darkness. Any potential for significant harborfront businesses, offering large workforce employment with living wages and benefits, which would pay City taxes in a foreseeable future were not welcome with open arms. Why not? What are the results? Where is the procession of legal documents, deadlines, and big picture commentary? What if a closer inspection causes court actions to become likely? Watchdogs?
Back to operating budget time, your major effort as a committee. Have you pursued a close look at the Print Shop to see whether privatizing might save $250,000 per year? Who remembers the RFP for the Transfer Station last year? Isn’t this another candidate for slimming down to half its expense, or privatization? Seriously, why in 2017 is carrying a flag to direct traffic around a road cut worthy of earning overtime? Isn’t it an oversight of old Ordinances and opportunistic union representation? Where was the taxpayer represented at the table? Save another $2 Million? Your Legislative budget should make a contribution, and there are other brand new budget items from this 2017 budget where no funds have been spent in eight months. Show us all City revenues. Knock expenses down by $4 Million or more.
It’s up to you. You are in charge and you cannot do enough at this moment in time, especially if you choose to run again. Get some real help throughout the year, and provide time to really listen those who speak to you respectfully, please? Time will tell.