City fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee Wednesday night attended the first session of the City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee as the city’s legislative body began review of Mayor Bill Finch’s budget proposal for the spending year starting July 1. He files this report:
Last evening some members of the City Council met in the legislative headquarters to study the Comprehensive Annual Financial Review (CAFR) for 2012. To my knowledge, it’s the first time it has been reviewed by them in years. The report was distributed in January; however, the Council persons used this review session as the initial step in their 2013-14 budget review process.
City representatives, including OPM Director Sherwood, Finance Director Kelly-Lenz, and CAO Nunn were present. Not as teachers but as a trio to respond to questions. There was no outline of the document to raise general understanding.
• The Council discovered that rather than a modest surplus last June, the city suffered a deficit of around three and a half million dollars because of pension commitment and educational funding, in spite of the three and a half million dollar infusion from the State of Connecticut.
• Questions also arose on whether long term liabilities had increased or decreased based on opposing statements in the report.
• Some focus was spent on overspending in many budgets. While some of it was well explained by adjustments necessary to account for the city taking over responsibilities for school security, maintenance, etc. and adjusting a budget near the end of the year, it was clear that much of the public safety overtime stemmed from management failure to assign staff efficiently.
• One question had to do with the capital budget and Tom Sherwood was able to respond that the capital budget 2013 (covering the next five years) was available in the report placed in Council boxes on March 2nd. That capital plan will be reviewed as part of the process on Saturday, April 13th, 2013 and again on Thursday, May 2, 2013 with a possible vote on that date. This is the City plan and a commitment for a wide range of educational buildings. (Unfortunately if you want to secure a copy, you must go to the City Clerk’s office and pay them. It is not available on the City website. For those of you who want to understand the monthly financial report, you must also visit the City Clerk’s office and order up a copy.)
Both of these reports are available in an electronic format on City computers but City OPM and Finance Departments have not been able to figure out a way to provide these on the City website, I suppose. It’s curious because they manage to get the budget, the CAFR and the Charter Reform work on site. If you are a taxpayer facing a 6% tax hike, how does it feel to know you’ll need to spend about $135 plus at least twelve visits to the City Clerk’s Office to get the basic information to stay informed? Why not ask your council person what they can do to remedy this? Time will tell.