We live in virtual times. With City Council meetings taking place remotely public speakers such as John Marshall Lee must adapt to address the legislative body and other public officials. His latest commentary:
How many of you remember the early days of television and a show featuring a violin-playing stand-up comedian named Jack Benny? He had one story he told about being held up, with a gun shoved in his back and being threatened: “Your money, or your life!” Benny did not answer as fast as the robber wished so he was threatened again. Finally, a third time, Benny responded in all seriousness saying, “I’m thinking it over!” (Laughter.)
Are we at such a point today nationally, with deaths of fellow Americans from all parts of the country and of all ages and persuasions mounting as a result of the Coronavid-19 pandemic? Do many people have to think whether the lives of fellow Americans in the balance are more valuable than the growing wealth of their neighbors? Do those elected to executive office wish to be seen upholding the best health outcomes for all the people or the economic success of a few?
While most of us find ourselves on the sidelines these days, with few citizens able to exercise social contact with the many, isn’t it a great time for leaders to take future plans out, lay the facts and the assumptions on the table, and explain how those in power see the best possible course for our communities? Wouldn’t this be a great target for “directed distance learning” about how the City spends the dollars? Of special note is that the municipal budget has been in preparation for some months now based on needs of departments. They also have been reviewing the likely revenues from different sources. What trends have they observed when they look back at five to ten-year periods? Increases and decreases?
An example may help. The City of Bridgeport self-insures many risks, or, where they do insure, deductibles, coinsurance, etc. so that we continue some expense. In FY 2016 property insurance premium was over $521,000, FY2017 exceeding $458,000, FY 2018 over $437,000, 2019 over $455,000 and already in FY2020, over $475,000. Has insurance expense reduced, or has coverage been reduced in one manner or another? What risk management step has caused what looks like a saving? Is there another account other than insurance broker invoice that needs to be consulted for a full picture? Has the City eliminated coverage of some types on some properties? How do we view the whole picture? Who does oversight?
As Jack Benny wrestled with the question put to him with a “reminder” shoved in his back, Mayor Ganim has had a gentler tax query put to him each year by the mainly “out of town resident” business community and has not clearly disclosed his priorities or budget areas for emphasis when presenting a new budget. And without announced priorities at the start of a year while selling the City Council members on their decisions, there is no oversight opportunity to review the previous year priorities.
When a young citizen a product of local schools, ten years from now addresses, comments upon or questions her or his educational foundation in Bridgeport schools will they call the time period we live in today the result of “Ganim2: a fiscal scourge” or “Ganim2: the Courage of a Second Chance”? Time will tell.