Officials must get act together
As expected, Gov. Ned Lamont approved a recommendation by the Municipal Accountability Review Board to put the city under a Tier IV designation, putting the panel in charge of the decision-making process regarding the city’s finances. For those keeping score, this is the second time in the past 30 years such a designation was made (1991-94), though under a different set of state statutes.
Thirty years ago, the city found itself in a $17 million hole due to a shoddily constructed budget that double-counted some revenues. The state advanced, via a special act, funding to repair the damage, but oversaw by means of a similar review board the day-to-day decisions.
We now have a different situation, but the same result. The MARB was convened for the city under a new state statute that required such review should a city bond to pay off a deficit. Just before leaving office then-Mayor Edward O’Brien requested bonding for more than $25 million. The City Council approved it, and by the time current Mayor Nancy N. Rossi entered the third-floor office, there was a notice of state oversight, which has continued.
The city was put into Tier III status on a four-tier scale, with the city retaining its autonomy, but getting direction and some decisions by the MARB. Most recently, the debacle of the expenditure of federal COVID-relief money, coupled with alleged fraud concerning other COVID-related funds, pushed the MARB to request Tier IV, giving the panel more immediate oversight, which might include contractual obligations, staffing, etc.
In its recent meeting reviewing the city’s budget, the MARB had concerns about the new police package included in an effort to retain and recruit new officers. The total was some $2.7 million. The members questioned the revenue basis for the new expenditures, and were told the money is covered, but the paperwork was not brought to the meeting by the mayor. No paperwork, no approval.
The MARB rejected the budget as presented and gave the city until June 15 to produce a revision. Mayor Rossi insists the paperwork is available, but the last-minute changes and details leading up to its approval by the City Council were the reasons for the omission.
Documentation and the availability of documentation has become a problem in City Hall. It was just weeks ago, the state report finding the city’s use of COVID funds were improper was released. City officials averred the report was incomplete because documentation was not included that the city had. We hope that documentation has made its way to the authorities so some answers can be duly provided and duly documented.
In this instance, we do not understand the lack of such documentation. If the council approved the expenditure and some rearranging of funds and/or revenue sources was determined, why weren’t those documents provided? We are now in a situation where the city is going to have provide every jot and tittle of correspondence regarding budgetary matters, and the administration should be (and should have been) aware of that.
Part of our problem is a slip-shod way of providing things. Either the new Finance Director Scott Jackson, or the mayor, or both must take the lead in getting things to the MARB. Given the city’s new status and its recent history, we are not surprised MARB declined acceptance of the budget. Let us hope that come June 15, the city will have its financial ducks in order, and will present ready documentation to answer any questions.
It should not be this difficult.