Citizen budget examiner John Marshall Lee has a bunch of questions he’ll present to the City Council during the public speaking portion Tuesday night that begins at 6:30. Several have to do with the assessment of the Wheelabrator trash-to-energy plant in the West End. Lee shares his remarks in advance:
For the better part of the past decade the City of Bridgeport has valued the Wheelabrator trash to energy facility at 6 Howard Avenue (or 95 Howard or ??) at around $400 Million with an assessment at 70% and used those numbers in presenting the Grand List or the Net Taxable Grand List.
Wheelabrator has been the City’s listed first place owner of taxable property. They have also been in CT courts for more than seven years fighting the City opinion of value and consequent tax burden. Very soon an opinion by the CT Supreme Court is expected that will perhaps settle the matter with major consequences for all parties. Why has the Wheelabrator listing on Vision Appraisal for 95 Howard Avenue disappeared from the City listing and Vision’s web site? It has been there as recently as two weeks ago and every other time I have researched the matter for years. Who would take such information away from the public? Is the City Assessor’s office responsible or the vendor, Vision Government Solutions? Why eliminate it from public view without notice or explanation? Are other properties missing from the list at this time? Same questions.
There is no TOTAL value provided for all properties notified of new valuations through the mail two weeks ago. Is it because the exempt properties have not been removed from the list as some suggest? No problem. Let the public see the list with exempt or partially forgiven less than 100% properties included today. We can then see the list on February first with only the total of the “certified” properties listed and know that the difference was non- or partial taxpayers. Wouldn’t that be instructive to most taxpayers at this moment?
The Office of Planning and Economic Development has asked for bond funding to complete land acquisitions in line with approved projects. OPED reported that funds were removed from its Capital accounts with no notice or explanation “late in 2015” in an email made available to City Council members in the bonding packet last Monday evening. One has to assume it likely that in late November someone in the departing administration made a transfer of funds that was not reviewed by the City Council or OPED in an amount upwards of $1 Million. Who moved the money with what authority? Whose approval was required and was it received? Where were the funds applied? Will the City Council do the research? Will the City Council request regular ongoing notice of all Capital Account projects and funds from the approvals of the past five years to oversee our borrowings and the work flowing from them?
What is the added expense in excess of borrowing $2,250,000 for Police autos and outfitting them by paying interest on the 2016 expense for 20 years? Is there a less expensive way of financing available to the City that would be includible in the Police Department budget annually? If the City has performed this financing practice in the past what is that practice costing us today for debt repayment? If few if any citizen taxpayers would purchase on credit in this manner personally, assuming it was available, why is the City advocating this?
When the City Council meets on Tuesday evening at 6:30 PM for public speaking presentations and then for the regular meeting at 7:00 PM will the public (or the CC) have any idea of the value of financial matters contained in each of the various resolutions they will vote upon that evening from the Agenda listing? Why not? In the name of Open and Transparent governance and Honest presentation, why doesn’t the Council resolve and request this single change in presented information in the future? Include dollar amounts for issues on the agenda? Would more taxpayers attend the full meetings where final discussions might occur? Would more taxpayers attend the Committee meetings beforehand to listen to the details raised and solutions debated?
Have I provided any answers or raised too many questions, fellow taxpayers? Are your current taxes likely to rise 20% or more in the next fiscal year because of the revaluation even if the City can find a way to limit the budget to its current amount, as I expect will happen at my home? Is there a reason to come out, learn more, talk to your Council person and get serious about the way dollars are spent or mis-spent in our City? Time will tell.