The word is ‘chaotic’
If there is a word that aptly describes the history of the City of West Haven’s financial picture over the last three-plus decades, it would be “chaotic.” Indeed, that is the only word one could use and be truthful.
How else would one describe a financial history damaged by a housing bubble burst in the late 1980s, exacerbated by horrific decisions by two administrations: one that decimated our accounts in order to keep taxes down after the bubble burst, and another that put us $17 million in debt by double-counting revenue – the first budget ever to go into effect by default under the charter after it failed to be passed.
Add to that our first takeover by the state in the 1991-94 era, using bond money to balance the cities books, one of the reasons a $10 million deficit was discovered. Pushing off the inevitable paying of that deficit, bonding to pay it off that triggered a second imposition of state will in the form of the Municipal Accountability Review Board. Failure to change the culture of doing business as requested by the board. Shoddy bookkeeping that prompted an auditor to misrepresent federal pandemic spending. Going through a litany of Finance Directors, culminating last week in the resignation of Scott Jackson barely a year following his hiring. And now, the MARB looking to implement a complete state takeover of the city.
We would say “Chaotic” barely touches the surface of the situation.
Jackson’s resignation, and the MARB looking to seize power in the day-to-day operation of the city are just the most recent – and disturbing – instances the city’s leaders seem unwilling or incapable of righting our financial problems.
These listed problems may center around the ability of the municipality to pay its bills, but it goes further. The myriad of difficulties have eroded our ability to attract taxpaying commercial interests, both by high taxation and an aura of incompetence, thus continuing the streak of failure.
It would be simplistic to lay the ongoing problems on one person or a series of persons, but it can be stated West Haven’s lack of political will to do what has needed to be done to tackle the financial woes stands at the forefront. Politics, the use of city jobs and offices as “booty” to be distributed by the victorious party or faction of a party at the detriment to the city cannot be understated.
This spoils system has contributed to the inner workings of City Hall for decades, where everyone is protecting some sinecure or group of sinecures. For years this newspaper and others have asked for an audit of city positions and departments to see what can be done to streamline our workforce and structure to no avail. The last restructuring took place in the 1990s.
An attempt to restructure via the charter revision process fell to defeat, mostly due to political forces against changing the rules of the game. Ironically, a major change called for the post of a city manager. With the current state of affairs, the mayor’s office is little more than that and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
In the late 1970s the West Haven Taxpayers Association was formed to be a watchdog on the city. It was a political force for a time but succumbed to the same enticements of power and booty, when it began to change its standing from an independent association to a political-endorsing body.
Such a group is needed today. Only a force directed by taxpayers for taxpayers will push politicians to alter their habits. Residents, once interested in city governance have been beaten into submission. That must change. Until it does, the morass that is West Haven’s financial picture will remain unaltered.
Beach Bob says
Who wrote this Editorial…based on my knowledge, education and personal experiences of most every aspect of the governing and the fiduciaries at every level of the City of West Haven, there is so much to ponder with this Editorial. Personally, I could add hundreds of comments on every aspect and have from
time to time over all the years I spent living and working in West Haven.
Economic recovery and development is a key force in stabilizing a tax base with new businesses. With the latest in the Federal Democrat held Administration, they are about to unleash a “SMALL BUSINESS DISASTER PLAN ” to destroy them, NOT to enhance or grow them.
Without a change at the Federal level, State and local municipalities like West Haven will continue to denigrate and not flourish. However, there are solutions that can be implemented locally to turn the City around. This must start with an entire flushing out of City Hall. This year’s election to public office is by far the most important in the City’s history. Without it, State takeover is evident.