By Josh LaBella
While the mayor is touting an announced $3 million batch of black ink as a good thing, in this election year, some of her critics are not convinced it is such a good sign.
The mayor’s office announced a surplus of over $3 million in the city’s general fund for the Fiscal Year that ended June 30, last week.
Mayor Nancy Rossi called the finding, which was the result of an annual audit, an “important benchmark” for the city.
According to a press release, “The report showed a surplus in the general fund of $3,144,027 resulting in a positive fund balance of $2,181,149. The audit also reported surpluses in the Allingtown Fire Department and Sewer Funds of $539,409 and $1,833,451 respectively.”
The audit was conducted by PKF O’Connor Davies, LLP of Wethersfield.”
Rossi attributed the surplus to doing exactly what she said she would: including painful cuts, eliminating programs and positions, enforcing a hiring and overtime freeze, and downgrading some positions from full to part time. She said her administration is also looking at other ways to cut spending.
“Right now we are going to be exploring a different health care option,” said Rossi. “We’re looking at all the different side-by-side comparison, and then we’re going to pick one and present to the MARB (Municipal Accountability Review Board) subcommittee on Mar. 12.”
Rossi explained that the budget for 2018 was crafted under Ed O’Brien’s administration but said when she got into office she noticed a number of issues with it. She said this included building “an $8 million hole” in the budget when he was told he was not going to get expected state revenue and counting $2 million of Board of Education emergency funds as city revenue.
“The problem is, if the Board of Education needed it, and they have past few years, they would need to draw from it and it wouldn’t be there,” said Rossi. “He (O’Brien) also ran over the health care line item. He didn’t put enough money in the health care line item.”
She said when she first took office there was a revenue shortfall over $11 million. Rossi said O’Brien crafted a horrible budget.
“What he crafted was a mess,” said the mayor. “I had to come in and cut positions. We had to take it down to bare bones because he went freewheeling spending for the first five months. We did a projection and even with the $8 million [from the MARB] you still we’re going to have a deficit.”
But not all are happy with the findings of the audit. Aaron Charney, councilman from the third district, and who has been a critic of some of the administration’s financial decisions, said the surplus is the result of the state giving the city an $8 million bailout. He said without that funding the city would have run a substantial deficit.
“Without that bailout the Rossi and O’Brien administrations would be bickering over who is responsible for the deficit,” said Charney. “The state will not keep bailing out this city. We need creative and aggressive measures to address this. I fear without such measures taxes will rise as proposed by the Five-Year Plan.”
Charney pointed to the lack of controls, which were also discovered in previous audits, were a source for disappointment. He said the city needs to find ways to save and said the biggest ways he could think of would be to change health insurance, consolidate departments, “reworking job classifications and making it so some employees can float,” as well as controlling overtime and compensation time.
O’Brien, meanwhile, got into a back-and-forth with Rossi on the surplus, when he attempted to take credit for the windfall.
The surplus announcement comes just days before Rossi will call the council together to unveil her second budget, which must be presented this month according to the city charter. That special session has not been announced as of press time. Meanwhile, Rossi has an op-ed on the surplus in this week’s edition.