Democratic mayoral candidate Chris Wilson said that if the city adopted a new “regular, rigorous review” of its budget, it could put an extra $1.8 million annually into “public safety, economic development and education” without raising taxes.
But his opponents, including Board of Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski, said that’s just not true.
Wilson said the City Council spends almost the entire budget process “focusing on the 5 percent they cut rather than the 95 percent we keep.”
“The overwhelming majority” of the city’s $180.7 million budget “will be spent without asking what we are trying to achieve by this spending, whether we are producing the results we expect to achieve, whether we can achieve better results through other means, or even whether we should be spending this money in the first place,” Wilson said.
Both Republican mayoral hopeful Ken Cockayne and Miecznikowski, who is seeking a council seat on the GOP line, said that Wilson is off the mark.
During the budget season, Miecznikowski said, “we review everything very, very closely and we decide how the money is going to be spent.”
“He knows nothing about the city budget,” Cockayne said. “He’s out in La-La Land, not looking at the real, true facts as I do on a daily basis.”
Miecznikowski said he performance-based budget that Wilson wants the city to adopt isn’t much different than what the non-partisan finance board does every year.
“Basically it’s the same thing that we do,” the finance chief said. “We evaluate the spending and what’s needed. We don’t just give money out.”
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said that Bristol, the fourth community he’s worked for in his professional career, has “one fo the most rigorous reviews of a budget that I’ve ever seen.”
He said it has many hearings and workshops that go over the spending plan line by line, with the entire process available online for the public to see and get involved.
Klocko said that instead of budget reviews, what the city really needs are reviews of the services it offers. Some of them could perhaps be changed or axed, he said.
Wilson, the chairman of the Board of Education, said that using performance-based budgeting, the city could “differentiate between what the City Council wants and what Bristol taxpayers can afford,” set performance standards for each department and conduct regular reviews of performance.
“As a businessman,” Wilson said, “if my company is spending money on something and we aren’t getting a reasonable return on that investment, I need to think long and hard about whether or not we continue that spending? I want to apply that same mentality to city tax dollars.”
“I appreciate his enthusiasm,” Klocko said, “but is this what the Board of Ed does?”
Cockayne and Miecznikowski said the reviews called for by Wilson are exactly what the council and finance board tries to do every year in numerous public hearings on every piece of the yearly spending plan.
“It’s obvious that his goal is just to throw anything against the wall and see what sticks,” said Cockayne.