General Lee Navigates City Finance Forest

Fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee addressed the Bridgeport City Council Monday night questioning city auditing procedures. His comments follow:

First I wish to note a very special document. It is a monthly financial report for the month of June 2013. It is marked final. That means that it is issued based on audited records. This is the only report of its kind issued by the Bridgeport Finance Department in over 20 years according to Tom Sherwood, OPM director in a public statement. As such this is of historic note. The Finance Director issued a Draft report for 2012 but never followed up with a Final report. No one in this body asked for one. That means that this body has never been able to study the actual revenues and actual expenses in detail for any previous year over which they have approved a budget, for two decades. What type of oversight process do you call that?

19 City Departments show overextended budget. These include Police, Fire and Emergency Operations totaling over $8 Million. These accounts need serious study to understand the entire staffing pattern, the number of people available as opposed to unavailable due to suspension, disability of various types, etc. as well as the effect of internal relative to external overtime demands. In that regard, on the revenue side, the report shows a deficit of $503,000 for Outside Overtime Reimbursement. Why are contractors not posting a bond to assure prompt payment or make a payment before the officers are assigned to a site? Study the categories. Ask questions. Expect good answers.

There are a number of departments showing year-end surpluses for the Full Time Pay-–line item 51000–that exceeds $3 Million. Budget Oversight Bridgeport, BOB for short, have previously indicated that line item 51000 had 50 or more “ghost positions” that were vacant in 2011-12 and previous years. Money that was surplus for the ghost position was spent elsewhere and now this is showing up in the Final report for 2012-13. Previous to this report you could not tell where the surplus funds were spent, though you did know that they got spent and were unavailable to refund a dividend or credit to taxpayers.

If you will look at the first revenue report, that of the Comptroller’s Office you will get a pleasant surprise. Line item 41538 titled Miscellaneous Cash had revenues of $17,427 in 2012 and was budgeted hopefully in the amount of $50,000. At some point between August 2013 when the June Draft report was issued and two weeks ago when the June Final report came out, the Comptroller found over $500,000. This is an impressive variance but there is no explanation how the CASH was encountered. Curious?

I would now direct your attention to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2013. A wonderful bound book has been delivered to each of you as well as to the City Clerk office, however, the City has not posted this report as of 5:30 PM this evening to the Finance Department archive site though they have been in receipt of it for over five weeks now. There is so much info contained in this document that it might serve as the basis for one of the Mayor’s meetings. He has not held such a meeting open to questions and answers but each of you might do that in your own neighborhoods. Taxpayers will be interested, I think.

There is much detail about revenues and expenses as well as assets and liabilities. However there are also graphs showing trends. One on page 88 shows principal taxpayers, the top 10 so to speak, from 2004 and again in 2012. Last year in the CAFR a similar chart showed the top 10 from 2003 and 2012. Is there a reason that 2013 was not used to show taxable assessed value? Is there any adjustment to the largest City taxpayer, Wheelabrator, to their taxable assessed value or has the court case stopped the updating of practical values? How would it appear if the City expert at valuation were indicating that they cannot justify $100 Million or more of the values at question?

And what about our own revaluation that would show values as of October 1, 2013? Previous Councils have provided funds for the past two years to pay for the five year update from October 1, 2008 and request for service has been issued and reports have been provided but notices have been stonewalled. There is a rumor that the numbers are BAD, whatever that means. If all properties are lower by the same amount there is no problem as long as you do not increase the 2014-15 budget.

However, if all neighborhood values have decreased, but perhaps some, by not as much, then those latter neighborhood values will produce larger City revenues with the higher mil rate. If such a neighborhood votes actively then that is bad political news for those in office. But failing to share the news with all the taxpayers is cowardly, isn’t it? And the consequence is that some property owners, perhaps with lower absolute values will be burdened with higher taxes. Does that sound fair? Will you ask for the revaluation report? Time will tell.



  1. Also, CAFR’s were usually issued by 12/31. A final system report would be useful primarily for archival purposes, after any audit entries, which were included in the CAFR, were posted.

  2. Geez–no wonder there is so much funny money floating around. This attention to detail is so greatly appreciated–sure do wish every department and elected official cared as much as you, JML. Thanks for keeping the spotlight shining.


  4. Bridgeport has been known as the Park City for all of my life, although its efforts at maintaining and preserving its larger areas (Beardsley, Veterans, Pleasure Beach and Seaside among others) has shown less complete attention and success, in my opinion, than the energy and resources focused on smaller areas like the Morton Center greenery and pathways or Knowlton Park, for instance.

    The Mayor has been saying the solar at Seaside Park is a fait accompli and it may be though there are many more hurdles to be overcome before the megawatts appear. One of the several reasons for locating ‘solar by the sea’ in this case is this former dump site can never be used for anything else (I leave those arguments to the folks who heard Rick Torres’ excellent presentation about former dumps, remediation by capping with four feet of clean soil, etc) and the UI development will bring a flow of dollars to the City of $6.8 Million over 20 years. The depreciating values of business personal property assessed at 70% of depreciated values provide 17 years of revenue in excess of the basic lease guarantee of $150,000.
    Now the entire schedule provided assumes a mil rate of 41.885, but we all know the maintenance of that number for more than one or two years is unlikely. What if that mil rate jumps to 50 mils or more? Well that means businesses will pay about 20% more on their depreciating personal property. Is this yet one reason more for the City decision to postpone revaluation? But the UI does not vote. Or does it have more lobbyists in Hartford than non-elected Bridgeport residential homeowners do making their case to support Mayor Bill’s postponement? Postponing recognizing the real valuations represented by accurate October 1, 2008 revaluation numbers will do more harm for the fear of and actual shock when they are recognized. AND THE WORST THING IS THE POOREST HOMEOWNERS ARE LIKELY TO BE THE ONES SUBSIDIZING SOME MEASURE OF RELIEF FOR THOSE WHO OWN PROPERTY WITH RELATIVELY MORE VALUE.
    Mayor Finch, show us the money, in this case the reval results. They are paid for by taxpayers. This is not a private exercise. By the way folks, we have heard much ballyhoo about water taxis that are the result of grants, where do you go for the info? Will it be contained in the Finance Director monthly reports? Not likely. Will it be in the CAFR? Perhaps eventually, but you will have to assume, guess and still dig for a partial view. When will we see a Grants budget and regular report?
    The City Council approves grant requests but has no routine method, process or report to follow up these days. Why not? To whose advantage is that? Is it possible were the public to see the big picture, they might choose a different result or manner and timing of getting there than the administration? Possible. When will we get to see and understand the larger picture? When will the City Council ask for such info, similar to the way the Bridgeport Public Schools have been presenting for two years? Is it possible the Transparent and Accountable manners of the departing School Chief upset one or more public officials and/or groups of employees? Time will tell.


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