The city’s two mayoral challengers say the city needs to do a better job with its budget.
Republican hopeful Mary Alford said the city’s management style includes “procrastination, indecision and budgetary sleights of hand.”
Independent contender Gary Lawton said that city officials failed to keep residents in the loop on municipal finances.
The man they hope to unseat Tuesday, Democratic Mayor Art Ward, said that many officials worked hard to deliver a budget this year that froze property taxes despite declining state aid and revenue shortfalls at City Hall.
He said that next year offers additional financial difficulties but steps are being taken to try to cope with them.
Alford said the city’s decision this year to snatch $2.5 million out of its rainy day fund to pay $600,000 toward equipment and $1.9 million to balance the budget was “an insult to the taxpayers who pay the bills.”
Alford said the city’s real budget problem is the $2.5 million “that nobody wanted to deal with when it should have been dealt with.”
But Board of Finance members said the reason the city has a rainy day fund is to dip into the money when times are tough. This year, they said, they had no other option unless they wanted to lay off employees and pare services.
Ward said he was determined to avoid layoffs if he could because there are already too many people in Bristol without jobs.
But Alford said the city, like households all over town, “needs to live within its means. We can no longer afford to put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today.”
The $171 million budget was approved this year with support from both incumbent Republican councilors, Mike Rimcoski and Ken Cockayne, as well as every Democrat except Kevin McCauley and Craig Minor.
Both McCauley and Minor argued that a small tax hike was needed to ensure public works got the funding it needs to prevent the city’s infrastructure from deteriorating.
Lawton said he wants finance officials to do more to keep residents informed.
In addition to the monthly finance board meetings, Lawton said, there ought to be “smaller town hall-style meetings” at the Beals Senior-Community Center and other locales at other times.
“The people deserve to be better informed no just once a month at the convenience of the board or whoever sets the meeting date,” Lawton said.
The finance board, whose members are volunteers, holds sessions at City Hall on the fourth Tuesday of every month and a joint session with the City Council on the second Tuesday of each month. They are open to the public, but rarely attended by anyone other than city officials and reporters.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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