May 15, 2009

Property tax freeze on tap in new budget

City fiscal overseers plan Tuesday to approve a $170.8 million budget that freezes property taxes and reduces spending slightly from this year’s level.

Mayor Art Ward said the spending plan the Board of Finance will consider assumes that officials find a way to save the $1.8 million needed to close a gap in the preliminary budget.

Officials have spent months paring the spending plan by putting off equipment purchases, leaving vacant positions empty and slicing allocations for big ticket items such as road paving.

But when they finished taking a hatchet to the budget, finance officials still had another $1.8 million to slice away. Since they are determined to freeze the mill rate, they need to reduce the spending even more, with no clear path to follow.

That means the city has to reach deals for concessions with its unions or lay off workers before the final vote on the budget at a June 4 joint session of the finance board and City Council.

At this point, it appears the city will reach deals with some of its unions, but probably not all of them.

At least three unions – representing police, firefighters and the city’s so-called “outside workers” in public works and parks, mostly – have shown no serious interest in making cuts to the negotiated settlements already in place, according to four city officials who said they couldn’t talk about sensitive discussions on the record.

On the other hand, Local 233 of the America Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers – which represents most of the City Hall employees – has voted to make concessions, they said, and so has the union to which most city supervisors belong.

What that means is that there will probably be some layoffs in some departments while others will be spared because workers cut a deal that saves the city money.

Ward said he’ll be continuing negotiations with the unions in the coming week. He said he hopes he can prevent layoffs.

School Superintendent Philip Streifer said Friday that he doesn’t think he’ll have to lay off any teachers. He said the reductions to the school budget are going to be felt outside the classroom, not in it.

David Bertnagle, the city’s chief accountant, said Friday that the proposed spending plan going to the finance board is a little less than $108,000 below the city’s budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

It isn’t clear how long it’s been since the city has reduced its overall spending, but it has likely been many years.

Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said that his board plans to begin working on the 2010-2011 budget much sooner than normally.

He said the panel would start calling in department heads much earlier “so we can get a handle on it” starting as soon as August rather than waiting until wintertime to start crafting the next spending plan.

Want to know more?

The Board of Finance meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council chambers on the first floor of City Hall.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at


samey, samey said...

no tax increase and decreased spending add up to an efficient, taxpayer-minded government but I am positive that the naysayers will still rant on with their negative views.

Anonymous said...

While we all would like to have a no tax increase, there usually is a cost associated with it.

What are we not being told?
Is there any gimmickry?
How much of this is at the expense of the future?

Anonymous said...

Steve, did you ever find out if any of the fund balance is being used for the current (08-09) budget, and how much, if any, is being used for the 09-10 budget?

Any plans to pay it back?

And, how much of a surplus, if any, is anticipated this year, or do they expect a defecit?

Anonymous said...

The reason that concessions are not being agreed to is that the employees know that there are plenty of cuts that can and should be made, but Ward won't listen to them, or most anybody else.

What will he do next year?

Anonymous said...

Is it efficient to let the roads and other infrstructure go unmaintained?

Anonymous said...

The police won't agree to concessions b/c they want layoffs. The new hires are digging into the overtime opportunities. I would hate to be a new hire now. So much for the union protecting its own.

bumpy said...

quite obvious that 9:07's mental infrastructure is full of potholes.

Anonymous said...


Just Venting said...

Did everyone forget about the 1.8 million dollar gap?? How is that figured in to this? seems we are still short.
It is amazing that the Teachers union was not part of the talks with the mayor. I am not against spending for the schools but is the BOE above evryone else in the city?

Anonymous said...

The accountant said this budget will be $100,000. less than the current APPROVED budget.

But, how much did the APPROVED budget increase during the year?

Why don't we get all the information?

Or is this like Obama's transparency?

Steve Collins said...

The budget the finance board is voting on will call for spending $107,000 less than the budget it approved last year. That's a pretty simple concept.
For those who really want to delve into it, the city's annual finance reports -- and budgets -- are all online on the city's website, under the comptroller's office. You're more than welcome to try to figure out if games are being played.
As for a possible surplus this year, I believe there will be one. The schools are likely to show "a modest surplus," according to Superintendent Philip Streifer.
The city, too, expects a small surplus.
You should also keep in mind, as I reported earlier, that the city is taking $2.5 million from its rainy day fund to use as revenue in the budget it is approving for the coming fiscal year. That's what's really making it possible to freeze property taxes this time around.
The finance board's budget assumes the $1.8 million gap is closed. It doesn't specify how. What that means is that the city has to get union concessions or lay people off until it has saved $1.8 million. Nobody's forgetting about it "Just venting," they are actually focusing considerable time and attention on what is a difficult fiscal problem.

Anonymous said...


Again, did the city use ANY fund money for this years budget?

And, since we don't know the details of the budget, how can the public go to a meeting and comment intelligently?

Talk about openness.

Seems like Ward is getting a free ride.

From what I was told, the BOF spent very little time discussing details at the last meeting. What is your take?

And if they are spending more than they approved last April, where is the money coming from and going?.

What report would show that, show changes in the budget?

Steve Collins said...

10:22 -- Why don't you go to the meeting and ask? The people who have the answers are all there.

Anonymous said...


I thought that the media was for openness in government, and there to provide a service to the people.

Guess I am wrong.

Again, did they tap the rainy day fund this year too?

Anonymous said...

10:22 ~ He's doing a great job and it's just killing you, huh?

Anonymous said...


Get real.

Collins wouldn't report anything that would make Ward look bad, or have people question him.

Anonymous said...

The BOF ASSUMES the gap is closed.
Just what is their job when it comes to setting the budget?

I remember a few years ago, they just cut and then let the Dept. Heads decide where.

Who is making that decision now?

Anonymous said...

I guess 10:22 thinks your his personal reporter Steve! LOL

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

It is basic human nature to put off what we find unpleasant: kids do it all the time with homework, chores, etc, just as Ward is doing now.

He is in essence running this budget on borrowed time, putting the taxes off to the next administration, next generation.

Anonymous said...


Is that the Michael Schroder approach?

Anonymous said...

The $70+ per month increase in my property tax for this term sealed my vote against Ward and the council. If they were too imcompetent to see the economy going down the tubes starting in 2007 & to act immediately for a tax freeze or decrease last year then they are not fit to serve. All this last minute work for conecessions shows the mayor is not a leader. The day he took office he should have been working on freezing/lowering taxes, instead he handed out raises. This is proof he has no leadership skills. We have to stop electing people who have no track record of success in the financial/management arena. It seems his goal is to stop looking for areas to cut expenses once they get to a 0% tax increase so he can get reelected. The goal should be to look for maximum efficiencies that will lower the mill rate. Common sense tells us that there is no way the economy is getting better anytime soon with 13 million people currently unemployed (since 2007) and businesses afraid to hire. This means less tax $ coming in & more people struggling to pay their property taxes (some will not be able to pay at all).
I call on Ward and co. to show courage, leadership and foresight to lower taxes to what they were in 2006 (or better) to help those who are struggling now and those who will struggle in the future because of unemployement.

jerks said...

Steve, you weren't serious when you made the statement for that jerk to go to a meeting were you?

First of all, they would need to try and collect their thoughts so that real people could understand them, they would actually need to know how to talk in more than one syllable and most importantly, they would need to know who they are so that they could identify themselves - don't blame them for not wanting to do that because if I were them, I wouldn't want anyone to know my identity either.

Anonymous said...

Ward is only doing this to get elected again, next fiscal year we will be hit hard. Ward is playing the shell game with funds now - he is doing the same thing Nicastro did and we got socked with taxes after Nicastro left office. Ward is nothing but the same part of the "good-ole boys club."

Time for new leadership - because Ward is only feeding us what we want to hear.

Steve Collins said...

As far as I can remember, they didn't tap the rainy day fund at all this year. But if it's truly important to you to find out, ask. It's public information.
I have no reason either to believe they're spending extra this year. What makes anyone think that?
To whoever asked about the Schroeder approach... the new boss would probably prefer I didn't do this on Saturdays at all.

Anonymous said...

Since our property tax eval came in at the height of the real estate market, I strongly urge each and every one of you to go to city hall armed with information on what your property value is really worth, (it can be researched on multiple sites on the net) get the information on what simmiliar houses in your neighborhood sold for etc. This is "supposed" to be a realatively easy process. I am compleely for "tax avoidance", not "tax evasion" we are paying taxes on property which is so overvalued it's not funny. IF enough people requested realistic valuations in their houses either our mil rate would go through the roof, the town would have nothing but tumbleweeds blowing through it, or here's a novel concept.... THey would actually have to manage the money properly just like you and I do as taxpayers and live within their means as Government. What a concept.

Anonymous said...

"No tax increase and decreased spending add up to an efficient, taxpayer-minded government". Less spending is not the same as efficient spending. Less is merely less. Why do you assume the Ward Administration has cut spending in the right places? Is it because you know he is smarter than the department heads and has found all the places they have squirreled away money? Or that this lean-and-mean budget implements his vision of Bristol?

Anonymous said...

"Collins wouldn't report anything that would make Ward look bad, or have people question him."

He does this all the time! And we do criticize the mayor on here all the time!!!

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight. There's $1.8 M short for the budget, and the mayor will lay off if people don't agree to wage freezes? So, he can lay off $1.8M worth of staff and still do whatever city hall does? What is he waiting for? How does a 1 year wage freeze help? If he can save that much on salaries and still run the city - go for it. If they agree to concessions, he's saying that he doesn't want to save that much money. Any idea what total salaries are for the City?

Anonymous said...

Is it true that Parks are hardly being cut while Public Works (Roads, vehicles etc,) is taking a big hit?

And if he is not funding unfilled positions, does that mean that they are cut for good?

Anonymous said...

Looks like Ward scorched his union friends again.
He wanted them to believe the shortfall was 1.8 mill, when he knew that hey had it down to 430,000.
And there are more cuts possible.

When will they learn not to trust Ward? He speaks wih forked tongue.

Anonymous said...

Growth of Britol frozen in new budget.

Actually, it is going backward!