Mayor defends administration’s fiscal record, heading to vote
As we approach primary day here in West Haven, I wanted to take this final opportunity to talk about an issue that I know is of concern to all of our residents: our city finances. Unfortunately, there has been quite a bit of misinformation spread on this subject in the past and I hope to set the record straight.
My administration inherited a total deficit of over $16 million which has been accumulating since 2005. This is the total of all governmental funds including the General Fund, the sewer fund, the Allingtown Fire Department, and a variety of other funds. One of the first things we decided to do when I took office was to consolidate a large portion of these funds into the General Fund. We thought this would increase transparency and give us a clearer picture of the issues we faced. This is also the reason the General Fund alone appears larger than before.
Since we took office, we have taken multiple steps to stabilize the city’s finances and work towards eliminating the deficit. Keeping spending under control proved to be a challenge as we found major healthcare expenditures that were swept under the rug by the previous administration along with increased worker’s compensation claims and unexpected special education costs. To counteract these costs, we asked all department heads to institute a 5 percent budget cut, multiple positions are being left unfilled, and we have negotiated new healthcare plans and new energy contracts resulting in the city saving millions of dollars.
On top of fighting to stabilize our budget and spending, we knew we needed to take other important steps to improve our financial situation going forward. The first of these was to refinance by issuing deficit bonds and eliminate our General Fund deficit. Issuing deficit bonds allows some breathing room for our city finances and improves the city’s cash flow. Would you rather pay off your debt in small, scheduled monthly payments, or constantly have your checking account be negative? To me, this answer is clear. We need to have our head above water to make any significant progress. The previous City Council and my opponent rejected this plan, however, our current City Council understood the necessity for this and passed it earlier this year.
In addition to passing this refinancing package, I also encouraged our City Council to pass and implement a balanced budget ordinance which they have done. This forces the Council to address any deficits in the next fiscal year’s budget to avoid deficits accumulating which has been the problem in the past. It also requires the Finance Director to report to the City Council quarterly instead of annually which increases transparency and allows issues to be detected and dealt with earlier.
The steps we’ve taken to stabilize spending, eliminate the deficit, and prevent deficits from accumulating in the future are all part of the foundation for West Haven’s financial recovery. The next thing we need to do is grow our city through economic development and we are already having great success in this area. At this time our city needs strong, consistent leadership to ensure the positive steps we have taken continue.
Edward M. O’Brien