June 11, 2009

Another take on the city budget

This was sent to me by resident John Cullen:

This may not be the most appropriate location to post this, but the topic is reference and is all part of the same morass…




City of Bristol Budget 2003                                                        $135 million


City of Bristol Budget 2009                                                        $170.8 million


Average annual increase                                                        4.2% over 6 years*


Total increase over 6 years                                          $35.8 million


Total % increase in past 6 years                                          26.5%


Projected budget in 2012 @ 4.2%/year                            $193.2 million (3 years)


Increase from this year’s budget                                          $22.4 million


These figures consider the fact that the budget for this year is a virtual duplicate of last year. In other words, the increases over the past 5 years have been spread out over 6 years, which lowers the total as well as the percent. Much rhetoric has been expressed that with this budget, Bristol is simply postponing expenses that will have to be “made up” in future budgets. Consequently, if the pattern of increases over the past reflects more ‘normal’ years, the budget will be increasing at an even more rapid rate.


It seems to me that trying to come up with another $22 million dollars over the next three years is likely to cripple this city. With State contributions to Bristol’s bottom line likely to be diminishing, with a pension funding dilemma still on the horizon, with landfill leakage cost issues and sewage infrastructure and treatment issues ready to rear their ugly heads and a $2 million ‘rainy day fund’ dip having been made, not to mention this concept that two new schools need to be built…wow. Hold on to your wallet. And the tax income from the ‘Technology’ park isn’t going to put a dent in things if it makes a contribution at all. And ‘Downtown’ continues to become an ever expanding wasteland. And the band plays on...




ESPN has been a very important force mitigating Bristol’s budget increases. If you take their assessed property value as determined in 2006 of $240.7 million, adjust for tax purposes (x.70 = $168,500,000) and multiply that by the mil rate of 25.99 (Please just round a number like that off. Gas stations have been pretending for years that folks are a bit slow and don’t understand that once you get to .99, it is time to bump it up to the next whole number. That increase in the budget is $17,800. Not worth the hint of deception it conjures.), they would be responsible for $4.379 million of the City budget. That would be close to a mil (approx. $4.176 million). They evidently get some tax breaks, but these numbers solely reflect their maximum possible property tax contribution at their listed valuation multiplied by the 25.99 mil rate. The other fees they pay, the property tax their employees who live in Bristol pay and other ways they indirectly contribute to the Bristol economy likely make it a low ball estimate that they are worth a mil on the budget. (I would love to see analyses of these kinds of data, since we seem to be so hard pressed to fund industrial parks and help businesses monetarily. It would be great to know if we get our money back. Seems we make all kinds of projections but I have never seen a cost/benefit analysis done in this regard ‘down the road’ to analyze whether projections panned out – perhaps I missed them.)


ESPN has an assessed value that is greater than the next nine of the top 10 assessed taxpayers combined. So even if we give the top 10 a 2 mil impact, the other 24 mil (25.99 – 2) is coming from ‘elsewhere’. Your pocket is rapidly becoming a larger and larger source of the ‘elsewhere’ money. And that is not just through property taxes, but it will be reflected in state and federal contributions (and your funding of those entities will no doubt accelerate) as well that we cross our fingers will be ‘rebounded’ to us. Lots of luck…


With the last revaluation, I recall hearing from city officials that the over all tax burden in Bristol had shifted somewhat to the private property owner and away from the business/commercial sector. If that is the case, individual taxpayers will be asked in the coming years to contribute largely to the escalating costs of running the city. And even with the conservative increase projections of what will be needed listed above, the addition of another ‘sugar daddy’ like ESPN in that short time would not even fill the gap ($4.379 million x 3 = $13.137 million, the amount another ESPN might contribute if it magically appeared tomorrow versus the $22 million that will likely be needed.) Individual tax payers will be expected to take on a very large burden to maintain Bristol in the future.




I can’t comprehend this happening. The well is not deep enough. There is no other choice but to decelerate the rise in the budget, if not eliminate increases in the next three years all together. There is no other way to do this than to reduce costs. The gravy train has been derailed. We can wait until this is hammered home like the inevitable collapses of many private companies, or we can start facing reality now and get a head start on making Bristol an attractive place to live financially as well as service wise. If we don’t, people with sense will move to communities that do decide to do so. And the problem will be exacerbated.


This city critically needed a manager to run it, and an opportunity to move in that direction was lost recently. We now have an embarrassing situation regarding our Corporation Council office involving both personnel and budget matters. We have an ongoing joust between the city and its Economic Development Director, under whose direction exactly what has been accomplished to mitigate this fiscal bind we are in? We have an ever growing list of empty buildings and lots, most notably down town, and will contribute further to that dilemma ourselves when Bingham, O’Connell and Memorial Boulevard schools are boarded up. We can pound our chests all we want about the ‘ratings’ folks like Moody’s and Fitch and S&P have given the city, but please recall they had rated such corporations as CitiGroup, MBIA, Ambac, AIG… highly before they were impolitely flushed to the bottom of the financial sector cesspool. Our fiscal situation can turn on a dime, and unless something is done, it will.


There have to be workforce reductions and pay scale and benefit adjustments made. There have to be increases in efficiencies – people, equipment and technology have to work harder and produce more for less. There has to be better management of city departments as well as the city as an entity, and more realistic and innovative approaches implemented to get accomplished what needs to be accomplished quickly and efficiently. There needs to be a greater level of voluntarism and participation in government, and leaders should assist this in all manners possible and assure that any obstacles to allowing the community to assist in city affairs and/or directly contribute time and expertise be removed. We pay too much to get too little accomplished, and changing that reality is the only way this city has any chance of surviving in a manner we might all like and be proud of.


It is not really complicated. But it does mean that there must be people in charge who will make the hard choices, hold everyone accountable and have the opportunity to see things through. As nice as it would be if the good times kept rolling, the fact is they have contributed as much as anything to the depths of these bad times. An increase in laziness, selfishness, a sense of entitlement and the growth and spread of unrealistic expectations were a big part of those ‘good’ times, and ultimately put an end to them. It's time to get back to reality, and the quicker, the better.


Ps please excuse any inaccuracies in my numbers and set me straight if I am really off the mark. The city budget is not a simple thing to understand and the contributions to the ‘entire’ budget ($177.9 million vs. the $107.4 million we need to come up with – I think) from the state and other sources make it even more complicated and difficult to compare year to year. And I am not a ‘numbers guy’. I do think it is very important that we all start understanding the budget, revenue sources and debts a bit better, and that simple summaries and analysis be provided to us to facilitate that.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com


Anonymous said...

I'm impressed with John Cullen's articulate opinions, and his motivation, as a citizen of this town, to get those opinions out there in hopes that it will help his community. Maybe he should run for local office.

Anonymous said...

As was suggested by former Mayor Stortz, maybe the city should be a little more transparent, especially in these difficult times.

Anonymous said...

John, by rounding you are only going to get taxed more, which will allow the politicians to spend more.
That number is calculated, not pulled out of the hat.

Also, check this years budget: you will find that the city spent/is spending over 5 million dollars more than originally budgetted.

Work that into your analysis.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Stortz wasn't so bad after all

Anonymous said...

1:19, 1:41 a.k.a. Stortz,

Yes, you were pretty bad.

Anonymous said...

Letter in todays Press by former Mayor Stortz pointed out some serious questions about the budget and budget process.
Now Cullen is doing the same thing from a different angle.
Maybe this will bring more out into the open for all the voters to see.

Would like to see both follow up with more information.

Anonymous said...

they can freeze property taxes all they want this year everyone needs to hold on to their asses next year, we are going to get slammed when we all lose are homes we can camp out on ward's front yard.

Anonymous said...

3:55, I'm already holding on to my ass and to my home (barely) thank you very much. Hopefully, by next year I'll get my job back and will be able to afford to get "slammed."

Anonymous said...

With out cut backs and major layoffs were screwed. no way out the politians are playing games to get elected again.

Anonymous said...

Stortz do the world a favor and shut your mouth.

You are a disgrace to not only the Republican Party and the City of Bristol but to yourself as well.

You rant and rave about the process. hy the hell didn't you do anything as MAyor. Maybe because it would have required you to make a decision?

SHut up, please just shut up, we could care less what you have to say, what you think.

Crawl into your little hole and shut up!

Anonymous said...

Good observations in John's letter...but way to long winded! Get to the point people.

Anonymous said...


Yes, I agree that the letters are long, but I also feel that there is a lot that these people are trying to say, and their input options are limited.
Wouldn't it be nice if this was all covered by the media AND city hall, so that their comments and input, and that of others could be more succinct.
They are doing us a favor by putting this forth.

limpy said...

wouldn't it be even better if these know-it-alls came forward brfore the budget was adopted so that their great ideas, in their own minds anyhow, could have contributed to the budget process? maybe these ideas aren't as great as cullen portrays them to be?

Anonymous said...

Excellent letter. Who is John Cullen? Sounds like we could use him in the Mayor's office asap.

I am interested in what Stortz has to say. Thank God for people like him & others who will speak up and inform the public (in basic terms) what is happening at city hall.

Steve, periodically you blog that insulting entries will not be permitted. Why was the June 11, 8:56am entry posted? There is no "information" in that email only insults.

Anonymous said...

JOhn, while I too support the idea of a city manager, the last proposal would have ended up with a city manger no more independent from the politicians than the current Board of Finance.

And wee see how that is working out.

Anonymous said...


Is public discussion allowed during budget workshops?