As the city kicks off its budget preparations Thursday, officials are aiming to freeze the municipal side of the annual spending plan and to hold education increases to as little as possible.
Mayor Art Ward said he intends to reject any new spending that isn’t needed to protect the safety of the public or employees.
The goal, he said, is to hold the line on the budget.
Easing the way a little is a $1.6 million surplus from the last fiscal year, which ended in June.
The surplus – half of which came from unspent education funds and half from the city side of the budget – was announced this week after completion of Bristol’s annual financial report.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said the extra cash from the past fiscal year has pushed the rainy day fund to $17.94 million, or 10.5 percent of the yearly budget.
The city’s Board of Finance has a policy of keeping enough to cover 10 percent of the budget in the rainy day account, also known as the undesignated reserves.
That means there’s at least $800,000 of extra cash that could be tapped to help cover the tab for next year’s budget.
“This is the year I would consider it,” Klocko said.
Klocko said that as long as the money is used to buy long-term, non-recurring items that are not a part of the yearly operating budget, tapping the excess may make sense.
At this point, it’s unclear whether the city will wind up with a deficit in the current fiscal year, a prospect facing many cities and towns across Connecticut as revenues dry up.
But officials are especially worried that next year’s budget could face bleak prospects because the state is likely to slash its aid to municipalities. That could leave a gap of millions of dollars, particularly in education, that have to be filled with property tax money or spending cuts.
A more detailed budget outlook is likely to become clear Thursday when city leaders kick off the budget season with a 9 a.m. department head meeting focused on the mayor’s expectations for the spending plan.
Klocko said that one bright light amidst the gloom is the city’s plan to sell as much as $30 million in bonds in the spring.
“This is the best time to strike,” he said, because long-term interest rates are low and the city’s finances solid.
Klocko said that ratings agencies will look over the numbers, which remain excellent, and then ask him about how things look for the future.
“I’m going to estimate positive, whether it’s true or not,” Klocko said.
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