Worse In Hartford? Connecticut’s Bleeding Cities–Stafstrom: It Doesn’t Matter Who Is Worse Off … State Has Ignored Cities

The mil rate in Bridgeport is 54. In Hartford it’s 74–ouch–by far the highest in the state. Mayor Joe Ganim’s spending plan approved by the City Council calls for $4 million in union concessions to balance the budget, some of which he has achieved. Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin’s budget anticipates $15.5 million in municipal givebacks. Two months into the budget year he’s still waiting. Looking into next year Hartford bean counters are staring at a $30 million deficit. Is bankruptcy protection an option for Hartford?

In lieu of that, Bronin’s lobbying local and state leaders to embrace a regional approach to governing with shared services to cut costs. The 2017 session of the General Assembly could be a doozy dilemma of addressing bleeding cities.

The Hartford Courant’s Dan Haar chronicles the Hartford case in a story featuring Bronin here.

If the city can’t cut any further, after dozens of layoffs, and if it can’t raise taxes because its tax rate is already by far the highest in Connecticut and further increases will only mean more exodus, then it needs outside help. And if that fails, bankruptcy reorganization looms.

“This year the city of Hartford draws down essentially all of its reserves, all of its fund balance and we are depending on some significant savings from labor negotiations as well,” Bronin said. “We’re not afraid of making hard decisions but the structure is broken.”

A broken structure–translation: it must be reorganized–is another way of saying the city faces repeated shortfalls and deficits even when everything goes as planned. How big is the so-called structural deficit? Just to get through the fiscal year that started July 1, the city is counting on $15.5 million of givebacks from municipal unions–and that’s not forthcoming, two months into the year.

In June of 1991, facing reelection in November, Republican Mayor Mary Moran filed for municipal bankruptcy protection in federal court about three years after Democratic Mayor Tom Bucci announced the city was broke and needed a state bailout. The state allowed the city to use its bonding powers to borrow $55 million to retire an accumulated deficit. The state stuck the city with a financial review board whose mission was to ensure city budgets were in balance. Moran, frustrated in her dealings with the review board, announced the city had severe structural problems that required bankruptcy protection.

The state, led by Governor Lowell Weicker and Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, opposed the bankruptcy filing, arguing that as a child of the state the bankruptcy filing hurt the state’s credit worthiness. A federal judge ruled against the city, Moran appealed it and was defeated by Joe Ganim in the general election.

Kid, Weicker told 32-year-old Ganim, you help me, withdraw the bankruptcy filing, and I’ll help you. Within the next year or so the state bought Beardsley Zoo for $5 million, Beardsley Park for $5 million, more than $10 million came from a gaming compact Weicker cut with the Mashantucket Pequots, operators of Foxwoods. Weicker, the benevolent dictator, did things for the city through the force of will. He relocated Housatonic Community College, languishing on the East Side to Downtown, ordered the relocation of Troop G State Police Barracks from Westport to Bridgeport during a time of record-breaking crime. Another $500,000 from the state arrived to remove a hulking pile of illegal demolition debris in the East End dubbed “Mount Trashmore.”

Weicker showed that a governor can do things administratively to resurrect city finances. Taxes did not increase for 10 years and the review board disbanded in the summer of 1995. But are structural issues within cities so deep now–land poor and population rich, debt burden and other issues–they require a whole new rescue approach by the governor and state legislature? The state has its own financial issues.

Or are municipal bankruptcies on the horizon?

State Rep. Steve Stafstrom weighs in via Facebook comment:

It doesn’t matter who is worse off. The problem is the 21st Century economy requires dynamic, livable, walkable cities that are centers of innovation and economic growth. But for far too long CT has ignored its cities as economic drivers and centers for job growth, particularly its largest city, Bridgeport, and its Capitol City. We fundamentally need to reform our regressive property tax structure, help our urban cores address their unfunded legacy costs and prioritize infrastructure investments in our cities and along mass transit corridors to maximize economic growth. And we have to do so now.



      1. Phil,
        Incorrect. Hartford assesses residential property at 30% of FMV versus Bridgeport’s 70%! Therefore, our effective residential property tax burdens are 70% higher than Hartford’s!!!

        1. What difference does it make? Playing with percentages is just playing with numbers and it’s VERY EASY to play with numbers. The question is, IMHO, “What do political/fiscal leaders of a certain municipality feel they can raise with the local tax base?” Can you raise $150 million, $200 million or WHATEVER? The question is THE BOTTOM LINE, not so much the percentages etc.

      2. The Hartford mil rate (Commercial, Residential, Apt/Mixed Use) is 74.29. The assessment is: Commercial=70%, Residential=32.21%, Apt/Mixed Use=70%.

        Two $100K houses, Bridgeport would pay $3,780. Hartford would pay $3,293.
        It appears, barring math errors, BPT pays slightly more residential taxes on houses of the same value. About $41/month.

        To be absolutely fair, you would have to take what you get in both cities for $100K and the quality of life in both cities. I mean, a $100K house in Westport is called a garage but the schools are better (if you have kids and care) and the area is considered safer.

        1. BOE SPY,
          Your calculations are incorrect. A Bridgeport residential property owner pays about 70% higher taxes than a Hartford residential property taxpayer for a home with the same fair market value.

          1. This is the formula I used:
            house cost (times) assessment (times) mil rate
            BPT = $100,000 * .7 * .054 = $3,780
            HFD = $100,000 * .3221 * .07429 = $2393

            You are right. Sorry, I made an error. A BPT person would pay an extra $116 a month.

          2. Lennie,
            Businesses and condos are assessed at 70%. They pay for the “residential” tax break.

        2. BOE, you wrote:

          This is the formula I used:
          house cost (times) assessment (times) mil rate
          BPT = $100,000 * .7 * .054 = $3,780
          HFD = $100,000 * .3221 * .07429 = $2393

          You are right. Sorry, I made an error. A BPT person would pay an extra $116 a month.”

          Am I missing something?
          $3780 – $2393 = $1387. So in Hartford, in your example, the homeowner pays $1387 LESS for the same house.

          1. Yes, for a residential, single-family unit, a homeowner in Hartford pays less for a house of the same VALUE. Not necessarily for the same house. I am not sure how what you get in BPT and Hartford for $100K would compare. Like in my example, $100K in Westport does not get you much house but your tax amount is less than the tax amount on a $100K house in BPT.

            In my first example I reversed the first two numbers in the Hartford tax amount. $3,293 should have been $2393. A problem when you have a few beers and get on this site.

  1. Last night I came home from Saratoga race track, it cost me more money on flucking tolls than I gambled at the track. I said this before, every major city in this now poor state is waiting for some kind of miracle to happen, who in hell would ever move a company into this state that will tax you and your employees to death!
    I think the largest cities in Connecticut should establish a toll program to help offset and underwrite their budgets, on every major highway in every major city in this state and start it now, before we all file for bankruptcy!!!
    A 50/50 split in toll revenue with the State.
    We can’t go anywhere without paying tolls to New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
    We have the room to install a toll station on the west end of this city, at the same time we can clean up those old industrial sites.
    Bridgeport/I95 has approximately 170,000 trucks and cars passing through our city on daily basis.
    A two-dollar toll will put approximately $30 million into our budget and offset taxes each year.
    I hate tolls as much as the next guy, but we need a revenue stream to stop hemorrhaging money.

    1. Jim, tolls or another tax are not the problem. There was a time when we did not have an income tax. Adding an income tax seems to have INCREASED our debt. We have raised the sales tax many times and our debt has also increased.

      This seems to indicate spending is the problem, not income.

      1. BOE SPY, I would like people from other states to help us pay for our highways like we pay for theirs.
        Spending and holding the line on taxes goes hand in hand, we need a perpetual revenue stream for this city to survive!

        1. But that is not what happens. NY has a commuter advantage we do not. Who would pay the toll? Commuters from CT going to work in other parts of CT and trucks. The truck tolls would just end up in the cost of the products the truck carries. You would pay that toll when you buy the product. Say it was a gasoline tanker. CT residents would pay the rest of the tolls. Who commutes TO CT to work? You may get some people ‘passing through,’ but not many.

  2. It’s all about municipal government, right?
    Emerging Block chain technology can be applied to Bridgeport and provide the kind of transparency bloggers have been waiting for. Block chain tech is better than a Financial Review Board because it can produce instant results. It has a no-excuses, stiff-consequences contract that makes City Hall lawyers nervous and taxpayers thrilled. Banks love it, cities dislike it. If Machiavelli and Darwin wanted to help cities, they would’ve come up with Block chain technology. It also creates preventable bankruptcy, which homeowners enjoy.
    /www .huffingtonpost.com/william-mougayar/the-blockchain-is-perfect_b_11657794.html
    This is about Canada, wait until it arrives here.

  3. One of the problems here in Bridgeport is unchecked spending. The public facility department just bought several trucks and trailers plus dumpsters and dumpster trucks. Very few people know this and who allowed this to happen? Was there a vote to allocate this money?

    1. I am going to guess this goes back to the bidding to be in charge of the Bridgeport Transfer Station. The bidding process got screwed up by the newest garbageman, Ernest Newton and “his” company and the City decided to run the transfer station on their own. If I remember correctly, the bid from the previous transfer station operator was about $8 million give or take for a couple of years. The bids were thrown out and John Ricci is in charge and I guess they feel they can spend the $8 million, the $8 million they “saved” from running the transfer station by themselves.

  4. Isn’t it interesting a Mayor (in Hartford or Bridgeport) can put a budget together and anticipate as revenue, givebacks from employees, the majority of whom are union employees, in the name of concessions? Practically speaking, perhaps it makes some small amount of sense, but as those “concession amounts” add up, doesn’t it jeopardize the entire sense of a balanced budget that is the aim in the first place?
    So for example, did Bridgeport teachers vote yes or no to working 2-3 days for no pay this year? And were the paraprofessionals, some with 10 or more years of experience, and others maintaining three jobs to make ends meet, allowed to vote as members? I have been informed, NO! So a decision is made by a “former worker” who having become a Union Leader, makes decisions for the member? What kind of “work” is that? Where is the fairness in that behavior? Have union leaders forgotten their working years?
    Taxpayers need lots more info about how the “structural responsibilities” are formed at negotiation time, how expensive the contracts are over the next 20 years or more, and when it comes to pensions, perhaps some info on how far current pension assumptions are from average reality returns of recent years. Time will tell.

  5. Luke Bronin is Dan Malloy’s golden boy protégé from Greenwich. He was “appointed” as Hartford’s mayor by Malloy after only two years of (alleged) Hartford residency. He is Malloy’s anointed successor to replace Dan in the special election after Malloy abdicates to take an ambassadorship to Lichtenstein or some other such reward job for delivering big-bucks Greenwich donors to Hillary and publicly defending her indefensible record as First Lady/healthcare-reform destroyer, clueless carpetbagger Senator from NY, and as foreign policy disaster designer Secretary of State.

    Luke Bronin will get an uncontested bankruptcy bailout for Hartford from Dan/the GA, as well as some $ from the federal government so he’ll shine in time for the special election, or the regular election, in which Dan will not be a candidate.

    Bridgeport already knows they have to step out of line for bankruptcy because there can’t be two major cities in the state competing for big bailout bucks, and the green light has been give to Hartford.

    Until this state and country are flipped right-side-up politically and economically, we’re screwed. Our economic and political position is as fixed as our geographic position in this state as long as the political status quo is in order at the regional, state and national levels.

    Clearly, our political leadership and representation are not willing or capable of effectively advocating for us.

    Vote for change in November. The important thing in this sad election year is for Donald to not get elected and for Hillary to not have a mandate.

    1. With the state facing a reported extreme shortfall to balance the budget next year (worst I have read is $1.5 billion, even I think that’s an exaggerated number), where are these state bailout funds going to come from?

          1. Jennifer Buchanan, THANK YOU. I can finally find some sleep at night knowing Hoosier Hospitality is being extended to the long-neglected city of Gary Indiana. This post will officially end my crusade to help the denizens of Gary Indiana as I am now confident decisions made in the Capitol House in Indianapolis will finally reach out to the people of Gary, after decades of neglect. From now on, I will focus my attention on my own hometown of Bridgeport. GOOD LUCK TO THE PEOPLE OF GARY INDIANA. 🙂

        1. Frank, you’ll have to tell us more about your extensive knowledge of Gary. It has a tough row to hoe. How tough is it? I await your report on the specifics.

          I’m a Hoosier too, in addition to being a Connecticut New Englander. Allow me to feed your antipathy toward Hoosier contributors on OIB with some relevant Northwest Indiana news.

          — Gary’s coal-fired power plant is coming down. Chicago/Gary Airport will benefit.
          www .nwitimes.com/business/local/nipsco-to-demolish-dean-mitchell-generating-station-in-gary/article_e77c1cb4-bddc-525c-86e2-7fc59a4c5b18.html

          — Gary uses sophisticated means to combat blight.
          www .citylab.com/politics/2015/02/how-gary-indiana-got-serious-about-tackling-blight/386159/

          — Charlayne Hunter-Gault of PBS NewsHour interviewed Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson about Gary’s innovative police-community relations. Karen is a friend and an inspiration. She holds undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard. Her passionate goal over the three decades I’ve known her is to give back to the city that gave so much to her.
          www .pbs.org/newshour/bb/gary-indiana-improving-community-police-relations/

          By the way, Jennifer Buchanan lives more than three hours distant from Gary. Asking her to fix Gary in her spare time is like asking you to fix Allentown Pennsylvania, in your spare time.

          I’d prefer Jenn’s comments here over a lack of them.

          1. Doug, in the link it states, “Charlayne Hunter-Gault of PBS NewsHour interviewed Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

            MAYOR KAREN FREEMAN-WILSON: Residents often thought that perhaps the police were involved in illegal activity, or, more often, didn’t care about what happened in neighborhoods.

            “There’s a big gulf in between the fact that some of our police officers do not live in the city, and, as a result of them not living, that they didn’t understand what was happening in the neighborhoods.”

            Donald Day and myself have been saying for years Bridgeport should go the way Hartford has gone by hiring only residents who reside in Hartford. In order to take an exam for entry-level employment you must be able to prove you are a Hartford resident. Now after you are hired and pass the probation period they can move but think about what that does for those communities where police offices and firefighters reside. Think about the financial impact on the City with those new taxpayers spending money in their local neighborhood.

          2. DOUG DAVIDOFF. FIRST OF ALL, I hope you are feeling better and continued positive progress concerning your health. I have always respected your comments here and your positive outlook, especially about Downtown Bridgeport. My discussion with Jennifer about Gary Indiana began because I was intrigued with her comments from her new home in Indiana staying in touch with her former home, Bridgeport. I know she was very active here and I wondered if there was a similar cause closer to her new home in Indiana. I found the dire situation in Gary Indiana and I thought Gary could use some help. Beyond that, I am ready to finish my crusade to save Gary Indiana and I will reserve my efforts to save Bridgeport.

  6. I have been saying something for the longest time, the negative conditions of urban areas are a problem of The Governor AND the State Legislature of The State of Connecticut. Without a doubt, the quality–or lack thereof–of local government plays a large role. Both the roles of the STATE and LOCAL GOVERNMENTS are intertwined.

  7. As State Representative Steve Stafstrom wrote in this post, The State of Connecticut ignored the needs of the urban areas for 50 years, and now we are seeing a reversal and an upswing in the role of urban areas. WILL THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT SEE WHAT IS SO OBVIOUS?

    1. “We fundamentally need to reform our regressive property tax structure, help our urban cores address their unfunded legacy costs.”
      I would ask my State Rep. Steve Stafstrom to tell us how “legacy costs” came to be in the first place, as ideas and concepts, to meet union negotiation demands? So the “legacy costs” come from municipal executives as part of Labor Relations like our own Police Department contract for 2012 signed in 2015? Did the Council take a look at the plan to move from our adequately funded Public Safety Plan B offerings (relative to some State plans and Bridgeport’s Pension Plan A) and were they shown any info about the added expense of offering retirement benefits that included overtime earnings, from both external and internal overtime? Did legislators even bother to ask questions about such planning?
      The reason I ask Representative Stafstrom this question is because he sat on Bridgeport’s City Council recently before taking State office. As such he has a good idea where legacy costs come from. Of course once the labor contracts are signed, funding of those costs takes on another aspect as they get kicked into the future, thereby increasing such costs.
      Rep Stafstrom commenting on how Mayor Ganim asked the State for and received two years of such deferral was observed claiming in his news briefs he had helped the City save budget dollars, when actually the truth is there is no saving with a deferral in most cases, but rather an increased obligation. If Representative Stafstrom’s law firm or the State of CT failed to pay him on the appointed day, would he celebrate that as a “saving” usually? Even if the deferral had an extra payment attached to it, he probably would not enjoy the deferral. Why should taxpayers be happy when the elected play games with “costs” legacy or otherwise that only increase payments into the future? Does it indicate that the elected pay as close attention to public dollars as they do their own dollars? Time will tell.

      1. JML, I will be calling you soon. Steve Stafstrom sat on the Bridgeport City Council for EIGHT MONTHS. Is he the person to answer the questions you have posed?

  8. Posted three hours ago at Courant.com.

    Cities band together at Connecticut Conference of Municipalities to devise regionalism solutions for Connecticut urban areas, Missing from the list of the involved municipalities reported by the Courant: our fair city.

    Is this an omission in reporting (I hope) or a representation of a reality we are not at this table?
    www .courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-ccm-panel-regionalism-0830-20160829-story.html

  9. The overdevelopment of the “Golden Wedge” of Fairfield County, the southwestern third of the county, is responsible for the transportation/development thrombus that is causing Stamford-area development angina and giving the rest of the Connecticut economy shortness of breath and problems walking significant distances. GE knew it needed a place with better “circulation” if it were to prosper as a company, so it sought out a state with a healthier, holistic plan of development with which its plans could resonate.

    “Regionalism” is not something that can be applied to the grossly unbalanced Fairfield County socioeconomic equation. Bridgeport must remain as “B-Port,” the slave quarters/jail/garbage dump of the county. Our docile, otherwise self-serving municipal leadership operates by the unwritten state law that Bridgeport must remain “B-Port” because the Golden Wedge must retain their lifestyle and municipal prerogatives, which wouldn’t be possible if there were regional equity and fairness with regard to Bridgeport. In return for the “cooperation” of our municipal elected officials, they can look forward to continued power and political perks while in office, and a golden parachute if things don’t work out for them politically (e.g., Bill Finch’s NY Thruway job).

    So that is why Bridgeport was not represented in discussions of “regionalism.” Fairfield County will stop being FAIRFIELD COUNTY if “regionalism” is allowed to disrupt the status quo, and seepage from the BRIDGEPORT repository of Fairfield County’s socioeconomic and environmental debris is allowed to enter the down-county/suburban environment and the regional dynamic/status quo is otherwise disrupted. Greenwich deems regionalism in the county “unacceptable.” (And truly; the rest of the state has to tow the line for Greenwich, which explains why the economy of the state as a whole is going down the tubes. It’s a Stamford-Greenwich-centered state. It doesn’t matter that overdevelopment in that corner of the state is choking the rest of the state and bankrupting the state as a whole to maintain that favored corner’s status. And, like the glutton, it doesn’t matter if their profligate ways are damaging their health and longevity, the Gold Coast/Golden Wedge lifestyle will be maintained until there is s fatal heart attack or the whole body gives out because of systemic failure.)

    Regionalism is okay for the rest of the state as long as it doesn’t impinge on the development and lifestyle prerogatives of the Gold Coast, especially the Golden Wedge, of Fairfield County. (It’s okay for Hartford, and Waterbury, and New Haven to talk about reshuffling some state dollars with their regional handlers. Just don’t make waves about Bridgeport and the Golden Wedge.)

    So, Mr. Stafstrom. I’m sure you are well aware of the political dynamics of the state with respect to the real seat of power being in Greenwich (Stamford-Greenwich). Do you really think you can move an urban agenda for the state from Bridgeport against Greenwich inertia? Greenwich native son and golden boy, Luke Bronin, is making symbolic noise for Hartford in order to set himself up for election to the Governor’s office. The state’s power brokers will pretend concern for Hartford and the cities and throw Hartford some money and help and allow some talk of regionalism to make the other cities feel a little better about Malloy and his protégé, Luke, in order to keep one of their own in the Governor’s Office. But unless you are talking about forming alliances from throughout the state and really whipping up some political dissent against the Connecticut status quo (determined by Stamford-Greenwich interests), you yourself will only be going through symbolic, suspect motions. Are you ready to start a civil war in the legislature? I would tend to doubt it.

  10. Jeff, I’m confused. Maybe you can clarify.
    I don’t have all the exact numbers but a quick glance at state and local budgets show over 90% of the city and towns in Fairfield County see a negative return on the money they receive from the state compared to what they give. Bridgeport, by comparison, receives more than it puts in, by a fairly large amount. In fact numbers show that 90% of Fairfield County do not use the services they pay for.
    Like I said I didn’t have time to go over the complete numbers, just a glance.

      1. Many people in Fairfield County send their kids to private school. Some have private garbage collection, home security systems, private communities, and private roads. Things like that. The 90% number seems a little high unless they are calculating it by value. I.e., I have a $10 million dollar house in a private community and use private schools. We have our own security, pave and plow our own roads and a guy who picks up our garbage. My $10 mil house counts as 30 average houses in town.

        1. I would say their isn’t enough private community types or the like to claim 90%. In your examples above they are part of tax dollar programs. Where home security systems fit in here is unknown. It sounds like this number 90% was concocted to support someone’s agenda.
          Thanks, BOE SPY.

  11. Quentin. With all due respect. You are confused. You obviously have no grasp of the concept of “opportunity costs” or “infrastructure degradation costs.” You made a ridiculous statement in regard to the “90% negative return on money they RECEIVED.” I want to respond intelligently to your questions, but when you are coming out of left field from, as you admit, a “confused” (and seemingly antagonistic) position, you really discourage any attempt at education with respect to the issue. You need to do a little studying in economics. You need to understand the terminology and concepts used in order follow the discussion.

  12. Jeff, I know a little more about economics than you think. I work with multi-million dollar budgets every day. Not just theory. I know exactly what’s going on.

  13. Okay Quentin; then apply what you know to Connecticut’s suburban-urban relationship. In a business relationship, is labor and infrastructure from one division of a company ever used by another division without dollar-for-dollar compensation (as well as profit sharing, where joint ventures are involved)? If the growth and profitability/labor-compensation rate of one division is threatening the viability of the company’s largest division, or the whole company, wouldn’t something be done to address that malignant effect? Can you see the Stamford-Greenwich vs. Bridgeport analogy here? Can you see where other comparisons, in similar veins, might be made in this regard?

  14. Lennie,
    As previously stated, while the effective tax rate for residential properties in Hartford is about 70 percent less than Bridgeport, the effective tax rate for commercial properties in Hartford is about 35 percent higher than Bridgeport. Just one reason why businesses, including major companies, are leaving Hartford. Our recent 29 percent mil rate increase in Bridgeport will hurt our ability to attract and retain businesses here. In addition, without a credible plan to put the City’s finances in order and reduce tax burdens over time, the City’s future is in doubt. We need real leadership and a credible plan to create a better future. The same is true for Hartford, Waterbury and even New Haven. We need to state the facts, explain the benefits of acting and the consequences of failing to act, and make tough choices both at the state and local level.


Leave a Reply