Mayor Art Ward's state of the city speech, delivered Tuesday to a chamber of commerce breakfast gathering:
State of the City Address
Last year when I came before you to give my State of the City address, the recession was in its infancy. Though we had planned for the impact of the recession in the 2008-09 budget, we didn’t know the true severity of it; no one did. It has turned out to be worse then we thought, with several economy-driven revenues such as conveyance tax, building permits and interest income falling below budget projections.
On a more positive note, due to sound financial management and prudent practices, the City is in much better shape than many other communities within the State. We will survive this difficult period and continue to provide the citizens of this City with a safe and desirable place to live work and play.
Preparing the 2009-10 budget was one of the most difficult processes yet. I have been in Bristol politics close to 16 years and I don’t remember being faced with such unprecedented challenges, many out of our control. With no approved State budget and the State’s multi-billion dollar deficit, State revenues could only be estimated in the 2009-10 budget. We have many unfunded mandates that continue to consume our resources and, we have taxpayers who could not afford a tax increase.
Holding the line on property taxes is the first step we have taken to control spending and maintain a business-friendly environment.
With that being said, I am pleased to say that the 2009-10 budget was approved with no tax increase and no reduction in services. It is $108,000 less in actual spending than the 2008-09 budget, but let me be clear, we did not get there without sacrifices. Capital purchases have been delayed, funding for vacant positions has been eliminated, and all City unions, with the exception of the fire union – which opted to utilize the arbitration process to settle their contract, have agreed to concessions.
Looking ahead, we have agreed to begin the 2010-11 budgetary process in August, as opposed to December. The 2010-11 budgetary process may prove to be even more challenging than the 2009-10. I feel by beginning the process early, there will be more time to evaluate current processes, initiate more efficiencies and analyze the City’s overall operations. Difficult times call for difficult measures, and everything will be considered and explored.
Local Economic Indicators
Currently, unemployment in the City is 9.0%, with the State unemployment rate at 7.9% and the national rate at 8.9%. Even though we are higher than the State, I believe we have some interesting prospects on the horizon to add jobs and increase our tax base.
Businesses are relocating to the City due to grants offered through the Economic Development Committee. This program has been very successful and continues to draw inquiries to Bristol. We currently have four new businesses relocating or expanding with others in the works.
The City has been conducting a number of site visits to local manufacturers and distributors in a Retention and Expansion Program to assist existing businesses and seeing first hand how local companies are doing. The City will address the major issues facing these companies, provide direct assistance where possible and initiate referrals to state and federal agencies when necessary.
A project that came out of these visits was the expansion of a product line by Better Molded Products, a plastic injection molder. This product line came back from China and resulted in 18 new jobs. Better Molded was able to provide better delivery times and better quality at a competitive price.
Recently I visited with the Barnes Group and Theis Precision Steel. It is the duty of the City of Bristol to speak out for these companies and to oppose any exorbitant tax actions which would jeopardize their growth here.
Last week I was at Clark-Western Steel Framing Systems during the afternoon shift change, meeting with shop floor employees as well as the plant managers. They are continuing to hire employees. I can tell you that their employees are happy to work for a well-run company and happy to be gainfully employed. NOTHING IS AS IMPORTANT TO BRISTOL FAMILIES AS HAVING THE BREAD WINNER(S) EMPLOYED AT A STEADY JOB, AND IT’S MY COMMITMENT TO RETAIN PRESENT AND PROVIDE AND ENCOURATE FUTURE JOB CREATION!!!!
The Southeast Bristol Business Park has been substantially completed since I last came before you a year ago. Two of the twelve lots have been sold and we are actively marketing the sites to interested parties.
CMI Specialty Products, a producer and distributor of electromagnetic property steel, opened its doors late last month in a new 11,000 square foot building right on the corner with Redstone Hill Road.
The Bland Company, who produces specialty fasteners for the aircraft industry, has broken ground on a new 17,500 square foot plant. They expect to open later this year. They will be adding up to 6 jobs to the 15 people they employ today.
Beekley Corporation on Dolphin Road has just moved into its new 30,000 square foot facility earlier this month. They are adding 10 jobs to the 78 they already employ.
Despite concerns in the economy these are just some of the bright spots. Clark-Western steel framing has added jobs as did the Bauer Corporation, an aerospace equipment manufacturer, the Beekley Corporation and Better Molded Products. Main-stay businesses such as ESPN and Lake Compounce continue to maintain bright forecasts for the future.
Although we haven’t completed any leases yet, the BDA has been working to attract green jobs. Two green manufacturing companies have looked at Bristol to manufacture solar electrical products and a third company is looking at a green transportation technology. With the cooperation of Congressman John Larson, Bristol has helped influence federal legislation that will provide stimulus funds to help launch green jobs.
Despite a record number of foreclosures this year, the City’s tax collections remain surprisingly strong. We are currently exceeding budget on current, as well as prior year taxes. This will contribute to the consistently high tax collection rate which has been at or above 98% for more than 12 years. This has eased the burden on taxpayers and provided the City with a reliable revenue stream providing the ability to avoid large, unaffordable tax increases.
Through the efforts of our Grants Administrator, Robyn Bugbee, the City has just received a $345,000 EPA grant for the environmental clean-up of the former HJ Mills box factory site on Church Street. The clean-up is directly linked to the site’s reuse as parking lot with some amenities. Over the coming months a final design will be developed in a public process required by the grant, followed by site remediation and physical improvements. Anywhere from 45 to 75 parking spaces will be added (depending upon the final design) that will be available for the Imagine Nation Museum, Board of Education and adjoining private property owners.
The State Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) has agreed to the use of a portion of a grant for downtown to be used for streetscape improvements on Main Street. We expect to be able to fund the improvements from 60 to 100% of the project depending upon how bids come in.
The good news for taxpayers is that the very limited number of bids that we are putting out are very competitive right now.
The BDDC will soon be doing a comprehensive parking study for all of downtown and will be looking at reuse of the Bristol Armory which will become available from the State of Connecticut. They have decided to put out a Request for Qualifications to select a well-qualified developer who will in turn develop a plan for the re-use of the Depot Square site.
The Bristol Development Authority continues to work with both tenants and building owners to renovate facades and attract new users. LJ’s Restaurant will soon be offering Italian fare on North Main Street, next to Blondies and the Bristol Press is renovating space on Main Street just a couple of doors down from the Chamber of Commerce.
The Mall property otherwise known as “Depot Square” is ready for development with one of the two remaining buildings slated for demolition in July. The City and Bristol Downtown Development Corporation are working on a plan to market the property as the economy starts to rebound. We expect to have this property back on the Grand List for taxation in the near future.
The City’s past, present and future successes are the result of strong leadership combined with a great interest in maintaining the integrity of the community. The leaders of Bristol recognize the impact of committing to policies and procedures such as preservation of the City’s reserve fund as well as debt issuance practices. An example of this relates to the City’s debt issuance in January 2009. When presenting to the rating agencies, Bristol received an upgrade on their rating from Standard & Poor’s. I quote, from the rating report dated February 2, 2009, “Standard & Poor's considers Bristol's financial management practices "strong" under its financial management assessment (FMA) methodology, indicating the city's financial practices are strong, well embedded, and likely sustainable.” The upgrade has been estimated to save the City close to $70,000 over the life of the bond issue.
Financial Reporting Practices
The City continues to receive Government Finance Association awards for its CAFR, its Budget Document and its PAFR. All three awards are recognized and highlighted in our rating agency presentations.
The City’s three pension funds remain over funded, even with a tremendous loss due to the economy. Having over funded pension plans save the taxpayers millions of dollars annually, with no budgeted contributions. How many cities and towns can say that?
While this year ended June 30, 2009, we may end up in a deficit position, many cost saving measures have been put in place to reduce the deficit and our general fund fund balance will still be around 8.5 – 9%.
Overtime is scrutinized, and only approved on an as needed basis with justification required, conferences and travel are only allowed for employees to retain their licenses or certifications, and energy and fuel consumption is being monitored and investigated monthly.
Bristol continues to move forward even in the most difficult of times. We have benefited from strong management, dedicated board members, and productive employees who all have the mindset of doing what is best for the community. We are committed to dedicating our efforts to conserve, monitor and address present and future needs of the community in a diligent and efficient manner.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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