GOP: Budget remains top priority
On August 15, the City Council approved North Star, a marketing consultant company out of Nashville, TN, to carry out a comprehensive marketing campaign for the City. This campaign is a joint venture between North Star, businesses in the Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor’s Marketing Task Force, and the City. North Star’s consulting fees of $60,000 will be covered by donors from the business community and the City. North Star has developed a strong track record of working with states and municipalities to develop in-depth, comprehensive marketing strategies that are implementable. Our goal is to create a brand, a truly unique identity, for the city of Bristol that will provide greater economic development, satisfied residents, and attract more tourism opportunities.
In order for this effort to be as successful as possible though, we must also fix our structural fiscal problems. The City once again faces a deficit between $7.5 and $12 million. How is it that after passing a six percent tax increase last year, the City remains in the red? Let us break down the budget process, how Bristol has gotten to this point, and the steps we have taken as the Council majority to get us back on track.
First and foremost, we’d like to explain the makeup of the Joint Board, and the process in which budgets are created and ultimately adopted. The Board of Finance and City Council form the Joint Board. Overall, 15 members make up the Joint Board, which consists of the six City Councilors and eight appointed, not elected, Board of Finance members. The Mayor also sits on the Board of Finance as the ninth member. The Board of Finance outnumbers the City Council, so as to make sure decisions are kept in the hands of financial experts and not politicians. It is the duty of the Board of Finance to hold budget workshops with City Departments to adopt a budget to bring to the Joint Board for approval.
Upon taking office in November 2011, the newly elected Republican majority on the City Council was presented with a budget deficit of $4 million. That number ballooned to a final total of $12.8 million after Department requests, healthcare increases and debt service payments. For years the City's Joint Board has not budgeted with the out years in mind. Zero-based budgets have not been utilized, and detailed monthly expenditure reports have yet to be instituted. The City has relied on Federal and State grants, ARRA money and borrowing from reserves to cover budget deficits, rather than making cuts or addressing the structural problems.
The reason we mention this is not to cast blame on past administrations, but rather to inform you of the circumstances surrounding the City’s structural budget issues and why we need significant changes going forward. To combat our budget issues, we, the majority on the City Council, proposed $1.5 million in simple cuts to the Joint Board. In addition, we charged City Hall with investigating department consolidation and privatization. Beyond this, we have proposed a new non-profit for parks improvement and maintenance, and commissioned a thorough review of the City’s current business incentives as compared to neighboring towns.
Unfortunately, the cuts we offered were voted down by the Joint Board, and our votes to reject a six percent tax increase were outvoted by the rest of the Joint Board. Consolidation and privatization research is still ongoing, although we anticipate a course of action to be drawn by Winter 2012. One bright spot is that the Parks Board has supported the non-profit donation fund to help support parks improvements and maintenance.
So where do we go from here? On Monday, August 20 we will unveil part two of this release, detailing the steps that will need to be taken in order to get Bristol back on the right track, and the benefits of doing so. Following that will be a series of Town Hall meetings to get feedback and to engage the public in this difficult, but crucial process. With everyone’s help and cooperation, we can ensure Bristol’s best days are yet to come.
Councilman Eric Carlson
Councilman Ken Cockayne
Councilman Derek Czenczelewski
Councilman Henri Martin