City fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee, pounding the pavement as a Democratic City Council candidate in the 130th District that covers Black Rock and a portion of the West End, wonders why there’s so little chatter about city finances? From Lee:
Election year excitement abounds. Public safety issues cause fear in some parts of the community while reporting on crime and violence causes concern in other sectors. Parks and recreation matters have been pushed by the Mayor but with no comments on the how they were funded and ten percent of roadways are being resurfaced. Economic development indicates Grand List values have increased, but where do you verify such information?
Council and taxpayers resist subsidies from long-term tax abatements offered to current investors. And concern is expressed across the City on the expected property revaluations coming after Election Day. School construction work continues at several sites. Downtown development proceeds in fits and starts while new businesses open and close too rapidly it seems. What about info regarding City money?
The City posted a June 2015 Monthly report for the Fiscal Year 2015 marked DRAFT. (The format for expenses has been reduced and this has cut more than 50 pages from the report, a Green act, but some additional adjustments are in order.) Page 2 showed:
Net Surplus $466,037.51
A surplus should be something to brag about, right? However, when you look at the report data there is a problem. I hope it is a small one, to be easily corrected.
When you review the report itself, the Revised FY 2015 Revenues were budgeted at $523,518,279 and according to the FY 2015 YTD summary were actually $521,988,899 a negative variance of $2,983, 415. (Two BOE Nutrition line items totaling $2,087,309 and another line item from Manufacturing Machinery and Equipment budgeted at $896,106 make up the negative revenue variances.)
When you look at the summary of expenses for FY 2015 on page 26 you see the Revised FY 2015 spending Budget was $523,518,279, identical to the budgeted Revenues, a balanced proposal. However, this DRAFT report shows Total FY2015 YTD expenses of only $505,501,379 in Column I of the report. Column J shows “Remaining FY Forecast”, a sum of $19,004,898, but there is no more “year ahead” as of June 30, 2015 just time for adjustments before handing the books to the external auditors. Is there a $466,037 surplus or a $16,000,000 surplus? Or are there explanations somewhere?
Fiscal reports coming out of the City often are explained to the City Council Budget and Appropriations Committee by Finance Director Anne Kelly-Lenz and Office of Policy Management (OPM) director Thomas Sherwood. Fiscal reports in recent times have had numerous troublesome errors that erode trust and confidence. That includes the 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) released December 27, 2014 where more than 20 different errors were identified but unacknowledged. Is there proofing done on documents released so that the public can trust the reports? Is there a $19 Million surplus for real, or is this another mistake? Possibly OPM should be renamed, the OFFICE OF PERPETUAL MISTAKES? Is Bill Finch missing some really good news to share with the taxpaying public or is an independent auditor necessary to look under the hood of all City finance matters: Operating, Capital and Grants budgets? Time will tell.
JML, now you know if there were a “surplus” of any amount, Mayor Finch would be running campaign ads all over night and day.
Surplus??? That’s a good one.
Four members of the Budget and Appropriations Committee met last evening for the first time in the Fiscal Year 2016. It would have been their first chance to review numbers from 2015 since the report came out in late July and the July B&A meeting failed for want of a quorum.
Had each of the members read the report provided by Anne Kelly-Lenz? Had they looked at the summary provided by the City with a $466,000 surplus (based on projections that are baseless when a Fiscal Year ends) or over $16,000,000 when the ACTUAL revenues received are compared to the ACTUAL expenses paid?
What is the story? It’s a document put out by a City Department that purports to be timely and accurate. Were taxpayers charged too much in taxes this past year? Were budgeting categories so inflated with “ghost expenses” of all kinds?
And Finance Director Kelly-Lenz was asked during the meeting about the size of the Grand List but she avoided providing an answer as to the amount of the Grand List. Where can you find this number on which our tax payments are based? Is this just another example of OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT governance by the Finch administration? Time will tell.
A surplus …?
A 6-figure or 8-figure surplus? (What’s a few zeros among zeros, right?)
Seriously John, we are grateful for your highly qualified, independent research and analysis of, and communications regarding, our city’s appalling mismanagement of the city budget, year in and year out–with rubber-stamp approval from a majority of the City Council.
As for the Grand List, that’s the foundation on which the current administration’s house of cards rests, no? And we don’t even get to see the current Grand List?
What will be the new normal come 2016? Let’s hope one that includes you and Tyisha S. Toms, Esq. on the City Council.
Finch wants no talk of the budget ’til after the election, and as we saw recently, he doesn’t want talk of crime, unemployment, etc. etc. I wonder when the next media gathering will be in front of Steelpointe, announcing the curbs have been installed or the front doors have arrived. It’s been a few weeks since the last one.
Nice, Harvey. Very nice.
Is it at all surprising Finance Director Anne Kelly-Lenz and Office of Policy Management director Thomas Sherwood, two members of Bill Finch’s cabal of enlightened rogues, would not have an answer about the Grand List?
It is time for an independent agency to audit the books.
What JML is trying to keep our attention on are lessons learned when Bridgeport was under the financial oversight of the State.
Charter revision of 1993 included the requirement of a monthly report to be reviewed by the city council.
Charter revision also allowed the city council to establish the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services to assist with these duties.
Under council president McCarthy, funding for a staff person to assist city council members with duties such as reviewing monthly financial reports was unfunded and the position recreated in the city clerk’s office as McCarthy’s personal assistant whom he hired. No independent information is provided council members. Everything the council members see is provided by the Finch administration. But then, council president McCarthy is part of the Finch administration.
Did someone say ‘Public Integrity Office?’
What a surprise, Little Stevie Auerbach hasn’t commented on this post. I’m guessing it is because financial issues are not his strong suit.
In my humble opinion, anyone who does NOT support JML for council is NOT in it for the right reasons.
I’m all for JML and Tyisha Toms for City Council from the one-three-oh!
Thank you TBK and all who bother to think about this posting. Basically most taxpayers rely on the City to handle financial matters fairly. That includes valuation of property, assessments, necessary expenditures to provide reasonable service levels, and enough reliable, regular and trustworthy information with which to verify their “trust.” Most of my postings merely repeat what is called for by City documents and indicate what is not delivered to us. So why should we trust an administration that wants to preach “better and better” daily but won’t or can’t answer very basic questions about its operations?
TBK, will you get in touch with Tyisha and me? Your postings have been right on as well most recently. Keep it coming. Someone told me several years ago I was only trying to embarrass folks. I responded I was genuinely trying to get the City to operate as required by Charter and Ordinance the way it is currently structured. In such a world the only people who would be caught “red-faced” or red-handed would be those working counter to the rules of the game. Time will tell.
John Marshall Lee is not a “gotcha” man. He is all about the facts, and the City budget facts have been appalling.
The way the city has been operated for the past 20 or 30 years has not been in the interest of the people of the city of Bridgeport. A revaluation is coming up; Bill Finch’s people have been putting it off to avoid taxes going up in an election year. How selfless.
John Marshall Lee is the sort of man who scares the crap out of the other members of the City Council: He’s smart, well read, successful, and has a lot of time to go over the books. He will not simply give a cursory glance to a budget and rubber-stamp his approval.
BTW, I reached out to Tyisha Toms on Facebook. Looking forward to sitting down with both of you for an informative discussion.