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Who Are Watchdogs On City Council?

February 23rd, 2017 · 11 Comments · City Budget, City Council, News and Events

Lee, Himes

John Lee addressed the City Council Tuesday night. Wednesday night, shown here, he addressed Jim Himes at the Congressman’s town hall meeting in Bridgeport. Photo courtesy Steve Krauchick, Doing It Local.

City fiscal examiner John Marshall Lee Tuesday night encouraged City Council members to step up their watchdog roles in the city budget process. From Lee:

Three weeks ago Kenneth Flatto, City Finance Director, sent out the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for FY 2016 as required along with his letter to us all before the 125 pages of financial statements and Notes. This annual audit is a document with much serious information that indicates trends important to taxpayers.

I have read the entire report once as I have done each year in recent years.

Did you know the State of CT sent almost $77 Million more to Bridgeport in 2016 than in 2015? The total amount went from $324.2 Million to $401.0 Million and almost 90% of that increase went to increases in School Construction Grants, $63.5 Million and Department of Education grants $5 Million. Still awaiting the Federal audit document.

We lived through revaluation Finch style in 2013 and then again in 2015, paying over $300,000 each time but with very few people seeing the 2013 results. Last year in the February 15, 2016 letter for the 2015 CAFR, Ken Flatto wrote: “The City’s taxable base remains steady and is demonstrating some growth with the October 1, 2013 with a Net Taxable Grand List at $7.1 Billion.” Four pages later in a section on “Reassessment” he told about the 2015 valuation and predicted that the Grand List was to be established on February 29, 2016. You know that it was. It lost about $1.2 Billion of value and caused the mil rate to increase even if there had been no budget increase. But there was a budget increase and a tax increase. Why did Finance reference 2013 results? Why not latest info that was in City Hall even if not yet finalized? Where can a taxpayer see, on a regular basis what “economic development” is occurring that will grow the Grand List faster than the budget?? Is that something you can point me towards?

If the City is nearing settlement terms over the former CRRA property tax court case and a decrease in their assessment that could reduce City Grand List by $100 Million or more, don’t we wish a way to keep our eyes on such increases and decreases? Is that something you will keep in mind as you talk to each department about their budget this year? When I hear a small business tell me they had to visit five different City offices, with very pleasant employees, but no simple way to be instructed in our City permit process, what are we to think? What encourages economic development?

Ten years ago the City established an “internal service fund” for risk financing activities. We had over $88 Million of deficit two years ago. It may be less now, but why did this year’s CAFR indicate a policy change from last year when it said “deficits will be amortized over a reasonable period of 5-10 years” and this year a change in reasonable period meant “10-12 years?”

The City Fund balance, the unassigned, unreserved, and unpledged cash increased slightly last year to $14.3 Million, however not only is this low relative to the minimum required under City policy, but it also puts a lie to the notion that 50% of City asset land sales will go to increase the Fund Balance. City property sales were over $6 Million and the fund balance only increased $1.2 Million.

On page 11 there is a math error of $100 Million that a proofreader missed. What if it were a “financial error” instead? Who would notice?

I have asked you to be watchdogs. There are no others for taxpayers in this City. Will you ask for changes in the monthly financial report to include variance recording of expenses? You will see that the City operated with budgeted employee expense variances for six months. Will anyone ask for details, like current employee lists that will be updated monthly? Time will tell.

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11 Comments so far ↓

  • Frank Gyure

    There are no watchdogs on the City Council.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Where are the watchdogs on OIB? Where are the people who have read my written word or heard my spoken words to the City Council in recent years who will join in the research on municipal issues that end up with the taxpayer on the wrong end of the scales of blind justice?
    I have tracked the Wheelabrator story for more than four years, warning of that judgement day. What was the legal expense of City attorney time and outside firms like Pullman Comley defending the City? What good did it do relative to the expense invested? Even Ken Flatto’s words one year ago ring hollow in the dust of the settlement announced Wednesday.

    Read Keila Torres-Occasio article to see the potential extent of Grand List downgrading in the CT Post today. Where do you make up for an incorrect valuation of this size? In which the City expert (paid by taxpayer funds) could not substantiate with his highest valuation the City books? In fact he was off by more than $100 Million. What kept us in court for so long? Legal pride? Or lack of checks and balance in this City? Where is the fiscal review presence in the City to operate within guidelines of prudence? What did we gain? Risk? Or lose as a result of waiting until 2017 to settle this 11-year legal action? Whose hands other than three mayors are on this settlement? Who will FOI the full judgement and publish it? The FOI form is right on the City website. Who will act now that the subject has been exposed? Time will tell.

  • Tom White

    Few people have the analytical skills of JML. It’s who he is. He’s not trying to embarrass anyone, but to see his skills relegated to a role as a commentator reflects the sad state of affairs of Bridgeport city governance.
    I wish we had a John Marshall Lee around when I was on the city council. John may appear rather ‘forceful’ at times, but that reflects his passion for accuracy of data and making management decisions based on facts. He has spent a lifetime in a business that requires this approach and the mayor and city council members should make use of his skills.

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