Public gets to speak March 29
With the turn of the March calendar, the city’s political centers turn to the Rite of Spring called the “Mayor’s Budget Proposal.” Last week, that event took place as prescribed by the City Charter, and begins a six-week review by the City Council. The process culminates with the final vote on the proposal after the review, scheduled for the first Thursday in May – again, per the charter.
The Fiscal Year 2023 budget, as set out by Mayor Nancy N. Rossi, is set for $168.3 million, and has the usual contractual increases, revenue streams and expenditure line-items one expects from such documents. Part of that annual budget “cycle” is the annual public hearing. City Council Chairman Peter V. Massaro has set the hearing for Tuesday, March 29, 6:30 p.m. in West Haven High School’s auditorium. We urge taxpayers to take advantage of the opportunity.
In this week’s edition we not only publish excerpts from the budget, showing revenues, expenses, and, of course, the bottom line both for the city, school system and taken together, we show the date and time of the public hearing. This is more than a legal requirement. It is an invitation for taxpayers to take part in the political process that most affects their daily lives: the how city will operate in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Under the charter, this is the only time the public – those who pay the taxes – are given the stage front and center and allowed to opine on how and where the city is spending its money. Over the last few years, these hearings have devolved to little more than pro forma exercises, with few comments, and those usually from special interest groups looking for more funding, or some other project.
Part of the problem has been the city’s longstanding financial problems, which have been taken over by forces from outside the city. Since bonding to eliminate the city’s deficit in late 2017, the city has been under eye and thumb of the Municipal Accountability Review Board. It had veto power over the budgets and has been the driving force behind the city’s increases in the mill rate over the last four budgets. It is understandable city residents determined their voices and opinions do not matter under the current circumstance.
The city is coming out of the financial stresses that plagued it for almost three decades, and while things are not rosy, they are looking up, and there seems to be a resurgence of opportunities that will put us on better fiscal footing. That is why now is the time for taxpayers to take a more active interest in the budget, and let officials know their opinions, desires, and hopes.
West Haven cannot allow itself to be dragged back down into a fiscal quagmire. Municipal officials over the previous administrations took the public’s silence as consent. Bad decisions were made. Bonding, borrowing, dependency on too much state aid, and pushing things off to “later” all contributed to the problems.
With the city looking to come out of the fiscal morass the public needs to be watchful. At one time there was a West Haven Taxpayers Association that served as a watchdog on fiscal priorities. One could quibble with the organization’s priorities at times, but there was no doubt it was a check on city officials.
We need a similar check on city officials today, not only to question, but to get answers from those who serve us as elected officials. The public getting engaged in the budget process is one way to rekindle the notion that city officials are being watched – and checked – if things go awry.