The Quest For A Real Finance Board

The City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee Thursday night conducted a public hearing on Mayor Bill Finch’s proposed spending plan. The city’s legislative body also functions as the budget authority. Citizen fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee advanced his public hearing remarks to OIB.

Last year I heard Council President Tom McCarthy in words similar to the following make a statement about Department budgets. “We don’t review the Mayor’s Office budget and he doesn’t review our Legislative Department.” That’s a pretty special relationship, isn’t it? There are multiple takeaways from such a comment made by the leader of the ONLY budget review process we have in Bridgeport.

• A real Finance Board would deal with every department, every spending entity, all grants revenues, all Capital authorizations and bonding projects, etc. Nothing would be out of bounds per the Charter. Why are these two department budgets (among others similarly situated) different? And the public would be allowed brief input at all such review meetings to assist you in your task. The sessions are not meant for you to provide self-applause for the hours you put in. Your failures cause folks to pay unnecessary taxes!!

• When the Council cannot publicly and credibly handle its own generous Stipend accounts and perform as the Charter and Ordinances still indicate today (or revise them appropriately), why should your budget be likewise out of bounds? Why is the purpose and amount of taxpayer money, indicated to help you perform your duties, not available to the public in a routine manner? Why did only one Council person post a report of the most recent Municipal Conference and how it has helped that person in their duties? It’s not a regulation, but it is a different sense of relationship with the public.

• Why does the current debit card format not require a purpose for each expenditure when a reference to Stop & Shop or Wallmart does not specifically indicate a purpose? Are expenses of all kinds for Conference travel supposed to be included as Debit Card reimbursements, or not? What process do you have and can you show for expenses reimbursed in excess of $9,000 per annum?

• By what right and through what process did those Council members make payments from a line item meant for COUNCIL LEGISLATIVE–OTHER SERVICES to not-for-profit contributions in June 2013, for which the City nor the Legislative group anticipated or received services? Knowing that the stipend account permitted neither CHARITABLE nor POLITICAL payments. why were more than 50 checks issued before the 2013 primary and election period? For more than $30,000? Are you prepared to make a gift to that charity personally if they return this illegal payment to the City?

Budget Book Observations:

• Why was all reference to Department employee vacancies eliminated from this year’s edition? Where is the City report on Ghost Expense positions? What amount ($7 Million?) For the past two years we have highlighted your passing on vacant positions and the City eliminating $4 Million or more each year in compensation and benefits?

• There is ATTRITION in employment every year due to sickness, departures, and retirements. Why was a $2 Million appropriation made for 2013 and none for 2014 when doubtless these events will continue? What reserves are required for Internal Service Funds, etc.? Is it $1 Million, $2 Million or $2.5 Million?

• Why has Grant Revenue earned for Lighthouse/Afterschool activities not shown in their budget? When it is received, what report shows how these funds are actually spent? Isn’t this an example of double budgeting of revenues, a clear waste of taxpayer dollars? ($500,000?)

• Why are Grant revenues not reported to the public in any format? City grants from the Federal or State level represent taxpayer funds just as sure as property tax payments to the City.

• Page 10 provides a brief summary of budgeted Employee compensation, $220 Million and Fringe Benefits at $118 Million or 53% of compensation. Does this Fringe calculation include Pensions? On page 83 a different chart indicates that $117 Million is the cost for active and retired, Group (healthcare) and Worker’s Compensation?

• Charts on pages 16-17 are identical to those from last year’s (pages 46-7) in the data covering the period 2003-12. Why was the info not updated? Does it reflect positive data trends or not? Does it avoid showing the decreased and admitted values for Wheelabrator, our largest City taxpayer?

• Departments that are noted as Not Essential like the Airport are allowed to run during the Finch years with significant annual deficits. Why? Where is the public benefit? Add to this the extra legal and bonding expenses from the Access Way fiasco and the question becomes more serious.

• Do the metrics or indicators show a need for re-funding of offices like the Minority Business Enterprise office? Or are they duplicative of other programs located in Bridgeport?

• Will you give serious thought to reducing the budget for Stipends from $180,000 to $120,000 or $100,000? You have spent as a group $90,000 or less in recent years. Will you also cut Other Services from $90,000 to $10,000, a number more appropriate to use during the past 10 years? If you do not lead in cutting your own known CASH COWS, how will you proceed to cut other areas?

Tom Sherwood has shown a capacity for making do with all amounts of money you have provided. Fund the schools for their full MINIMUM BUDGET REQUIREMENT this year and cut everything else along the lines suggested. Work on Fringe Benefits specifically next year. They are not available in the real world like the City provides. And Police and Fire budgets are only increasing in manpower because of the manner in which you handled the Grants. We do not need the extra numbers of Public Safety employees, but we do need an expert, and perhaps academic business review of these departments and the way they affect our budgets for years to come. Get out your red pencils to the entire report as well as your own Department. Time will tell.



  1. John Marshall Lee believes if the city were to change its charter and create a real Finance Board, things would be different.
    Lennie, correct me if I am wrong but I believe the last Chairman of Bridgeport’s Finance Board was Mario Testa. MARIO TESTA!!!
    Get it, John???
    Yeah, that’s real reform for you. Out with the council’s conflicts and in with the town chairman’s conflicts.

    1. Bob Walsh,
      Ask me about what I believe, I am happy to tell you. And just maybe you end up discrediting yourself when you get fanciful and quote your personal view of history where things can never get better.

      If the City is in as bad shape as it seems at moments in time (and from the failure to move the dial positively on City Fund Balance, etc. that shows no will and no money to make such change) then perhaps the State will enter the scene as savior? Malloy could enter as HERO, Finch could just wither and go to seed … and seek a Green job? I kind of envision a Finance group like the State Review Board was where all financial info was available to them at all times. The City never received money from the State it did not have to repay. We had the State essentially saying “we have your back.” Not a bad way to go for Dan Malloy … it would be an action, rather than all the behind-the-scenes rendezvous in Hartford where GreenMan and Adam do their secret pleadings and return without sharing the costs of their dealings, only the supposed benefits.

      For instance ,the Fireman just got a four-year deal with salary increases averaging slightly more than 2% per annum over that time. Oay, the public can see that factored into the Operating budget, but because of old negotiations, that increases the retirement pay of Pension A retirees (like Andy and Ron, and I have no problem with that) and their survivors. What increase per year does that cost for Pension A funding? Don’t know? No surprise as that is the modus operandi for GreenMan.
      By the way Bob, titles on OIB are the sole prerogative of management. My article says nothing about the makeup of a Finance Board, but rather its accountability and transparency, along with meetings OPEN to the public for contributions and questions. Let’s get things in order for the younger folks as a positive legacy for when they will take over. Time will tell.

  2. Again, useless information from Bob Walsh. Again, nothing helpful except bullshit musings. Bob, why do Finance Boards work in other towns like Fairfield? Master of the negative with nothing else to contribute; way to go, Bob.


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