By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
City Finance Director Kevin McNabola discussed West Haven’s improving financial condition during a meeting of the Municipal Finance Advisory Commission July 12 at the state Office of Policy and Management in Hartford.
During the 45-minute meeting, the eight-member commission of municipal finance experts, who operate under the umbrella of OPM, painted a more rosily fiscal picture for the city than its previous meeting with McNabola last year.
After McNabola outlined a number of long-term strategies for controlling city expenditures, the commission applauded the City Council for recently adopting bonding ordinances for the amended $17.35 million financing of West Haven’s cumulative general fund deficit and the $133.25 million reconstruction of West Haven High School.
The advisory commission, also known as the MFAC, also commended the council for approving a balanced budget ordinance.
“I think it was a really good move,” Commissioner Kathleen A. Clarke-Buch said of the ordinance, which the council adopted July 25, 2016.
The measure requires McNabola to provide council members with quarterly financial reports, including year-to-day reports of actual financials.
The MFAC singled out the fact that West Haven has grappled with its current fiscal problems because the former City Council failed to approve an earlier deficit reduction plan.
Commissioner John H. Schuyler said that if the city had initiated the deficit bonding sooner, “you would be out of the woods by now.”
Commission Chairman Thomas S. Hamilton added, “It seems pretty clear that (deficit financing) is the only real avenue to fix your problem, and the key thereafter is balanced budgets.”
McNabola said he’s optimistic the bonding ordinances, coupled with the economic boom of The Atwood, The Haven and other developments on the horizon, will give the city’s bond rating a positive outlook.
The nearly completed Atwood is an $18 million, 90,150-square-foot housing and retail project on Route 1. The demolition phase for The Haven South, a $200 million, 250,000-square-foot luxury fashion outlet mall on Water Street, is about to happen, city officials said.
According to McNabola’s “Moving West Haven Forward” presentation, the administration of Mayor Edward M. O’Brien eliminated more than $3.2 million of nonrecurring revenues in the fiscal year 2017 budget and reduced the tax collection rate from 98.7 percent to 98.5 percent to reflect the previous year’s actual percentage.
Other highlights of the presentation included a reduction of $1.6 million in the fiscal 2017 budget by not filling six full-time positions in the Police Department; a savings of more than $1.3 million in health care costs through restructuring; and a realization of $623,588 in cost avoidance on electricity by extending the city’s electricity contract.
McNabola credited the administration with implementing advanced tax collections that generated $7.2 million and $6.7 million in revenues in the fiscal 2015 and 2016 budgets, respectively, helping to strengthen the city’s cash flow position.
The MFAC, appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, is responsible for reviewing proposed regulations regarding the standards for municipal audit reports. The commission also works with OPM-referred municipalities to improve their fiscal conditions.