April 30, 2008

City budget may get sliced sharply in bid to lower taxes

With the economy continuing to falter and residents angry at the property tax hike proposed by the Board of Finance, Mayor Art Ward said Wednesday that additional cuts will be needed in the proposed spending plan slated for approval in a few weeks.
Ward told department heads they should submit “meaningful reductions” to their budgets by Monday.
The mayor also said he was freezing hiring, travel and overtime as much as possible for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which runs through the end of June.
Calling it “a major reconstruction of the budget,” city Comptroller Glenn Klocko said that the mayor is aiming to cut as much as $2.1 million from the approved spending plan in order to lower the mill rate hike by as much as a third.
To get there, Klocko said, “everyone, including education, has to feel the pain.”
Ward said that he’s heard from many people who are unhappy with the 6 percent property tax hike required to fund the $173 million budget that fiscal overseers approved last week. Combined with revaluation, most homeowners in town would owe an additional $200 or more unless cuts in the spending plan are made.
Ward said that “additional budget cuts are going to be necessary” to bring down the mill rate increase. But it doesn’t appear he would support layoffs or major reductions in services to get there.
It’s not clear whether a majority of the City Council and finance board would even go along with reductions that snatch money from the $101 million currently allocated to the schools for the next fiscal year. Education is in line, at the moment, for a 6.3 percent hike, an amount that educators said is sufficient to keep initiatives moving forward.
But Klocko said that when Ward asked him this week to lay out what it would take to cut enough to lower the tax hike by either .25 or .50 mills, he had no choice but to target the schools as well as the rest of the city government.
Klocko said he’s eyeing everything from putting off the purchase of every recommended police car to snatching extra money out of the Pine Lake ropes course fund.
“The cuts that are happening right now are thoughtless,” Klocko said. “They have no thought behind them.”
Unlike the cuts made during the budget season the past couple of months, there are no solid reasons behind the items that might get sliced away now, Klocko said, except that reductions are needed to lower the mill rate.
“I cut $2 from general government for every dollar from education” in the effort, Klocko said.
However, Ward is angling to have department heads weed through their budgets with more care during the next couple of days to see if there are places that could be cut without doing harm.
Klocko hailed the attempt.
“He is empowering the department heads to manage their budgets,” Klocko said. “I think it’s wonderful.”
Klocko said he’s ready to meet with every department head to go over the details in the hope of finding areas that make more sense to slice.
In addition to cutting allocations for next year, Ward told department heads to try to save every penny possible in this year’s budget.
“Every expense should be evaluated and prioritized, including the need for overtime,” the mayor told city supervisors. He said that except for emergency or contractually required overtime, all overtime “will require written justification to my office.”
The mayor also said that filling vacant positions is on hold pending his own review. He said “no new positions and no upgrades will be considered” at all for the time being.
“In addition, all staff conferences, seminars out-of state travel requiring any expenditure” have to be cancelled if the money can be refunded, Ward told department heads.
The city currently anticipates having about $900,000 left over at the end of this fiscal year, but it plans to use $500,000 of that money for economic development purposes. Bolstering the end-of-the-year surplus would provide more cash to get through next year, officials said.
Klocko said that the cuts are needed given the economic situation.
“We were bloated too long,” he said. “This is a correction and it’s necessary.”
“Things got out of hand and we’re going back. I just need to make sure these departments understand” that next year’s budgets are going to be tight as well, Klocko said.
“All of us need to make a concerted effort to improve the city’s financial position,” Ward said. “I’m optimistic that our efforts now will positively impact our future.”

Here's some more information from Klocko that I couldn't include in the story for the paper:

Klocko said that officials have taken note of the opposition in neighboring towns to proposed budget hikes and heard plenty from residents here who want deeper cuts to keep taxes down.
At the moment, the city’s proposed budget increase may be the highest in Hartford County, Klocko said, so it’s understandable that officials are eyeing reductions.
He said that it takes a $1,050,000 cut in the $173 million spending plan to cut the mill rate by .25. So cutting enough to lower the mill rate hike from 1.5 to 1 mills would require slicing $2.1 million from the budget that the finance board approved last week.
Klocko said that he figures that to cut ¼ of a mill, $300,000 should come from education and $750,000 from the rest of the city government.
To cut twice as much, he’s eyeing a $500,000 cut from the schools.
Of course, Klocko said, it’s not his decision. City councilors, the mayor and the finance board make the final decision.
He said that the millions cut from proposed spending during the preparation of the proposed budget were sliced away with some care to minimize the impact.
But now the cuts are being made simply to lower the bottom line, though he hopes to protect departments as much as possible.
Klocko said that he’s looking at a lower contingency fund, increased use of fund balance, some transfers from special funds, cutting equipment for the fire and public works departments, knocking out the purchase of police cruisers and more.
He called it “the toughest thing” he’s had to do since the 2001 recession, when other hard choices were forced on the city.
Klocko said the mayor sent out a memo by email to the departments about 3 this afternoon and “within five minutes, my phone was ringing off the wall” from department heads looking for help in paring their numbers.
The comptroller said that he plans to work with all of them and go over the ramifications of each cut so that officials can tell the mayor what it means to ax this budget line or reduce that one.
In the end, Klocko said, there will be a sort of “Chinese menu” for the mayor to review that lays out the possible cuts and how much each will save – and at what price to city services.
“It is monumental,” Klocko said.

Here's another copy of the press release from Mayor Ward (the same as the one posted earlier so if you read that you can skip this!):

In a prepared release, Mayor Arthur J. Ward addressed the need for further cuts to the 2008 – 2009 City budget.
“The budget process is always a challenge and this coming year is no exception. Additional budget cuts are going to be necessary for Fiscal Year 2008-2009”, said Mayor Ward.
With the downturn in the economy, prices rising in every sector of business and many Connecticut cities struggling to stay afloat, Mayor Ward is going back to the Department heads for another round of cuts. In a memo to City Department Heads, the Mayor stated, “Because you know what is truly needed to run your departments, I need your recommendations for cuts. Therefore, please provide to me your written recommendations for budget reductions by line item for your department no later than Monday, May 5, 2008. Please bear in mind that if you do not recommend meaningful reductions, reductions may be made for your department without your input.”
Ward went on to say, “I am also directing each of you to review spending for the remainder of this budget year. Every expense should be evaluated and prioritized, including the need for overtime. I recognize that some labor contracts require certain staffing levels, and that we must provide essential services. However, overtime, unless contractually obligated or for emergency operations, will require written justification to my office.”
Ward informed the Department heads that effective immediately, all requests to fill positions are on hold pending his review of the position being requested. Additionally, no new positions and no upgrades will be considered until further notice. In addition, all staff conferences, seminars out-of state travel requiring any expenditure (even if it has been previously approved and funded) must be cancelled if refundable.
In a move to keep spending at a minimum, the Mayor has called for anticipated over-expenditures in this fiscal year’s budget must be immediately communicated to my office and the Board of Finance prior to any overspending.
In conclusion, Mayor Ward said, “Throughout the year, but particularly during the budget process, we, as public employees, are under increased scrutiny. We must all continue to be diligent and professional as we are observed by the public and while we interact with the public; it is critical to the City’s image.
All of us need to make a concerted effort to improve the City’s financial position. I’m optimistic that our efforts now will positively impact our future."

*******
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about supporting the transfer of funds with GASB 45? That would offer significant savings to this town.

Anonymous said...

God, he is such a moron! The budget is days away from being inked as final and he sends out this kind of press release? Dept. heads must be shaking their heads. How about a Mayor standing by his previous comments of this being a "fair budget that preserves essential services" or whatever it was he said. Obviously some displeased taxpayer got to him in the meantime. So pathetic.

Anonymous said...

“In addition, all staff conferences, seminars out-of state travel requiring any expenditure” have to be cancelled if the money can be refunded, Ward told department heads.

So does the ban on trips include his little junket to Indianapolis to try to lure the American Legion tournament here, or is he exempt from that? Inquiring minds want to know, since most of don't think we have a hell's chance of getting that tournament to begin with.....

Anonymous said...

Well, isn't this interesting. Does the BOF and the Council know that the mayor has planned a major reconstruction of the budget after the budget season was concluded?

Anonymous said...

The fact that he sends this out as a press release kinda cheapens the whole thing for me.

Anonymous said...

How much are we paying Glenn Klocko to suck up to the mayor? Whatever it is, its too much

Odin said...

"Well, isn't this interesting. Does the BOF and the Council know that the mayor has planned a major reconstruction of the budget after the budget season was concluded?"

Are you saying he plans to implement MORE cuts after the budget it approved this month?

Tim Gamache said...

I get such a kick out of you "arm chair quarterbacks."It's really easy to criticize from the "cheap seats" isn't it?Why don't you try to sit in the same seat ANY Mayor does and then see how "easy" it all is.As if that weren't enough you all compound your folly by not having the courage to even sign your name!

Anonymous said...

From what I hear, it's the union contracts that are costing the taxpayers dearly.
As an example, I heard that the following occurs:
It's 2:30, and the worker bees are at the city yard waiting to punch out at 3:00. Uh oh - Mike R or some other councilman calls to report a tree limb or sewer drain cover problem near his consituents house needs attention. OK - they send a man out to fix it. If he gets back at 3:15 - he gets a minimum of 4 hours overtime pay. And of course, the supervisor and dispatcher need to stay also because the work day isn't done. You cant send the sup out to do the job, because the union would file a grievance that he's taking their work away. And, is it true, all the supervisors get a half hour ot every day so they can start before the crews and tell them where to go?
If this is the reality, we know why the budget is the way it is. Let's make them stop filling potholes so these insane contract rules can continue.

Anonymous said...

what has changed in 2 weeks? This is very curious! It was a fair budget 2 weeks ago and now it is bloated. It is one thing to admit you miscalculated but quite another to characterize the way it has been. Very disappointing display of lack of leadership

Anonymous said...

Glen Klocko is a big part of the problem, along with the Chairman.

Anonymous said...

HOw much is in this years budget for GASB 45?

Steve Collins said...

Just to clarify for everyone - At least at this point, the mayor is looking to make more cuts in the draft budget that the finance board approved last week. That budget is not finalized yet. The final budget will not be approved until a joint meeting on May 19 between the council and finance commissioners.
The mayor can't force the Joint Board to make more cuts. He's only one vote among 15 on that Joint Board.
However, at least some of the others will be happy to see a reduction. Others probably won't.

former GOP council candidate said...

Cutting expenditures of city government, lowering taxes, reducing the cost of living and reducing the cost of doing business in Bristol (especially) is moving Bristol forward.

Thanks Mayor Ward! You're the kind of Democrat I like!

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Maybe you can answer this!

Last coucil meeting if I remember right, Mike Rimcoski made a motion for a hiring freeze and the motion was seconded. The mayor made a statement that there was already a system in place for hiring so no such action was needed. He said all new hires must go before the council to get approval. Mike R withdrew his motion as did the second.

NOW.....for the press! All or a sudden he puts up a hiring freeze! If that's not posturing I don't know what is!!

Nice try Ward! Mike R already beat you to the punch!

Ward....Moving Bristol Backwards!

Anonymous said...

11:01 - What INTELLIGENT inquiring minds really want to know is how ANYONE could be thick-headed enough to bitch about the mayor's overnight junket to Indianapolis in a bid to bring the Legion World Series to Bristol, which btw if successful would bring lots and lots of revenue to our city as well as showcase our town to potential investors?

What your VERY SMALL inquiring mind really needs to do is get over your anti-Ward sentiment and start thinking pro-Bristol.

Anonymous said...

10:58: God, you are such a moron! The budget is days away from being inked (as in - NOT FINAL YET) and he sends out this press release (saying that he's listening to the people of Bristol). Dept heads must be shaking their heads (in approval because they understand that these cuts have to be made). How about Mayor standing by his previous comments of this being a "fair budget that preserves essential services" (but who listens to what the citizens are saying and realizes that they are asking to cut some essential services). Obviously some displeased taxpayer got to him in the meantime (and he's listening). So pathetic (yes, you are!)....

Anonymous said...

How about stopping the name calling and giving Art some credit for acting.

This mayor is showing leadership by calling for cuts to the budget and listening to the taxpayers.

I hope Dept. heads are shaking their heads and getting the message that they need to make cuts just like the rest of us. I am sure there are many non-essential areas that can be and should be cut.

Raising taxes in a downed ecomonic enviroment is the prudent thing to do.

For those that disagree with this bid to lower taxes, I am sure that if you came forward and asked not to have your taxes decreased the city would be glad to accomidate you.

Anonymous said...

Layoffs and Early Retirement Incentives.

This is the only way that taxes can be lowered.

Anonymous said...

When a company is losing money or is in a tough financial spot they downsize.

City Hall needs to downsize.

Anonymous said...

The trip to Indy: how much will that add to our revenue stream?

Anonymous said...

10:02 - The regionals, which Bristol is hosting in August, will pump a potential $250,000 shot into our revenue stream. The World Series is about 10 times bigger than the regionals. :->

Good luck Mayor Ward & company!!!

Anonymous said...

The world series will pump money into the stream! But he's not saying how much it will cost the City!

Anonymous said...

11:02 The City's costs would be a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the possible revenue it stands to make.

Anonymous said...

At this point in time it seems like the Mayor is political grandstanding. I applaud the action but this should have been implemented earlier.

Odin said...

"Nice try Ward! Mike R already beat you to the punch!"

Would that be the same Mike R who, as a member of the Personnel Committee, recommended the city council create about a half-dozen new positions since last November? Taking credit for someone else's idea is bad, but being a hypocrite is worse.

Anonymous said...

"But it doesn’t appear he would support layoffs or major reductions in services to get there." ?? Where, pray tell, will the cuts be?
I give the mayor credit, he is listening and he is trying to reduce the impact to residents, however, the fat to be trimmed is in salaries and benefits - it's time to show the residents you mean business and show staff that they are accountable. Can't have it both ways, is it more important to keep the public happy, or the unions?

Anonymous said...

Please explain how the City revenue stream will be enhanced:
Fees??
Rentals??
Income Tax??
Sales Tax??

Yes, some businesses may benefit, but no new businesses will be created, no buildings built and so on.

BUT, the overtime for Park employees will, and understandably so, increase.

Please enlighten me.

Anonymous said...

Listening to people on this blog and "Sound Off" where you can post anonymously is not leadership. Not listening to your BOF which studied the budget and held workshops for the last 8 weeks is not leadership. If the mayor wanted to demonstrate leadership he should have been involved in the budget process from the beginning!

Anonymous said...

the fact that the mayor is overlooking is this - no one is happy about taxes going up but the attempt to wring more money out of the budget with cutting Non-essential" services is a losing battle. The people who come and spew their venom at the meetings and here are never going to be happy with anything less than a mill rate reduction to less than 0 % increase. Even reducing it a little isn't going to make them happy. He is, in effect, fighting a losing battle since I think posters are right about him never taking on the unions and the positions that should be eliminated.

Anonymous said...

Many people will never be happy no matter what happens. However, expecting taxes and spending to be held with a 0% increase is not asking too much. It is not a foregone conclusion that taxes and the mill rate needs to go up every year. When times are tough, we need leadership who is willing to make the tough decisions. So far we haven't seen it by anyone except Cocaine. There really hasn't been any tough decisions that he has made, but he seems to be bringing up the items that the rest of the council has been ignoring for years.

Anonymous said...

Most people understand inflation, and when taxes increase at about that rate, they are somewhat understanding.

But 6%+ on average is NOT acceptable.

The mayor should have been on top of iot since the beginning: he was the one that touted his 14 years of experience.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I am worried about the mayor. His finger must be getting really chapped from holding it up in the wind for the last 14 years.

Anonymous said...

Damned if does...damned if he doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Must be real easy to run the city from the cheap seats. Some of you have ALL the answers to the tough questions....which budget cuts should be made, when to do it, who should get the boot, who should get the credit, even whether or not to notify the media....

What a presumptuous bunch of know-it-alls. If that's not bad enough, you nameless knotheads have the unmitigated gall to insult, criticize and demean most, if not all, of Bristol's public servants. Then, you bitch and moan because the city employees are making too much money (anything more than you make is too much, right?). They're not working hard enough, fast enough, or just plain enough to suit you...and you want to know why? Gee, I'd call that a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's amazing that ANYONE has the guts or fortitude to work for Bristol, I don't care how much money they're making. It's soooo easy from the cheap seats. If you've got all the answers, by all means identify yourself and step forward....we're all dying to hear from you!

Anonymous said...

How about cutting the city waste on city cars going home and running errands? How about having employees pay more into their health insurance? How about generating business to increase our $$ into the city. Seems hard to cut budgets when most seem to come in with what the Mayor asked for in the first place. I am putting my house up for sale and moving out of Bristol, seems to be the safer bet these days.

Carol R.

Anonymous said...

For the record, property taxes are also going up along with mil rates and accessments in every town in Connecticut including Farmington, Plainville, West Hartford, etc. This is not a situation unique to Bristol or Art Ward. Every municipality is struggling with rising costs and inflation. It is sort of funny though because I remember people being upset with Frank Nicastro for NOT raising taxes. It is very confusing sometimes residing in this town.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Carol R.,

Never mind just leaving Bristol....you'd better pack it up and move out of Connecticut. Unfortunately, no matter where you go the rising gas prices, food prices, health insurance, dropping real estate value and cost of living is going to get you anyway....but hey, good luck with that move! If you happen to find some place where the city leaders have all the answers, the taxes are low and all the citizens are happy, please drop us a line. I'm sure we'd love to hear about it!

Anonymous said...

Like 4-1 at 8:46 said, a reasonable increase is more palatable, especially if the people (not populace) see some effort being made to control costs.

The 0 increases of Mr. Himself Nicastro have put the pressure on all subsequent budgets, Couture, Stortz, and now Ward.

Yes, other towns face a similar situation, but I pay taxes in Bristol, not elsewhere.

Ward should have started right away.

Anonymous said...

Populace: (noun)
1. General public
2. Inhabitants of a place.

Makes sense to me.

Ward's working on it now (also makes sense to me).

Anonymous said...

For the record, property taxes are also going up along with mil rates and accessments in *EVERY* town in Connecticut

May 2, 2008 10:53 AM
`````````````````````

According to the articles in the Bristol Press , the budget in Terryville calls for ZERO % tax increase .

I think it may have to do with the 3% maximum in their town charter .

Anonymous said...

Too bad Ward did not read the memo he got from Stortz last year.

He might have been able to mitigate the situation.

But, he really does need a new Board of Finance, or at least new leadership.

Anonymous said...

"Terryville calls for ZERO% tax increases"

Well, duh...Zero is kinda the where the bar is set for everything in Terryville.

Anonymous said...

Actually, in the end, Art will let that out of town ego maniac Glen Klocko make the cuts.

Art, you ought to turn in part of your salary!

Anonymous said...

A case of locking the barn after the horse is gone.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, we hear NOTHING from Ward, but his mouthpiece, Klocko is having a ball at our expense.

Anonymous said...

Ken, tell us where you would cut.

Be specific.

Explain how you would lay off and who you would lay off?

I would be very interested to see how you would accomplish what you are suggesting.

Anonymous said...

Kenny, are you there?

Are you listening?

Anonymous said...

Right, share your wisdom with us Kenny. What cuts will you recommend?

Anonymous said...

I am a taxpayer in this town and I agree that there should be job cuts and layoffs. With our economy as it is now, we could use to get rid of some postions and down size...