Trying to juggle the details of her first budget and the self-imposed timetable for review by a state oversight committee, Mayor Nancy Rossi missed her own March 1 deadline, but expects to get her proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019 into the panel’s hand “soon.” The mayor has set next Thursday, March 15, as the date she presents the plan to the City Council in special session.
Rossi, who has made fiscal accountability a cornerstone of her new administration, reiterated this week that raising taxes is not an option she considered when putting together the spending plan.
“My proposed budget will be sent to the Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) soon,” she said.” I expect (it) to review the document and submit comments.”
She said the budget as currently outlined will make necessary cuts.
“The proposed budget reduces spending, eliminates redundant services and reduces positions. West Haven is among the highest taxed communities in the state so raising taxes in my mind was not an option. The proposed budget, if approved by the MARB and City Council, will require sacrifice from all departments and will require the city to be more efficient in delivering services to our residents,” she said.
When asked if an last-minute changes have been necessary, she said no, but did say the difficulties came because of inherent problems.
“The budget-making process has been extremely difficult and challenging because of the earlier than usual deadline and most challenging because of the $8 million revenue shortfall I inherited,” she said.
Asked about the budget address she plans to give, Rossi said it will be one of austerity.
“I will be writing my budget address and want to have my budget presentation to the City Council include a ‘State of the City’ update,” she said. “The public should know that the budget will include cuts in spending and a reduction of positions. We need to provide city services with fewer resources and deliver more effectively and efficiently. Like many of our residents, we have to do more with less.”
Rossi pointed out that some of the decisions she is making are difficult and will cause some discomfort.
“This budget will honest and balanced, but at the same time a bit painful and uncomfortable. We are facing an $8 million revenue shortfall and it needs to be addressed. This budget will stop the out-of-control spending and provide the city with a balanced budget,” she said.
With the city under the control of a review board, Rossi was asked if she thought the review process by the City Council will be different than in years’ past.
“I expect the City Council’s review to be different in that they will meet with all the city departments to review and propose legislation that might help execute such a very lean budget while protecting the most critical services,” she said.
With charter revision underway, Rossi was asked if she would like to see any alterations in the current process when the commission takes up the question.
“The budget process has a long way to go including a public hearing and the City Council meeting with department heads. I believe it would be good for the City Council to be able to change a budget line item with a simple majority of its members (7 votes). The City Charter, as written, makes it difficult for the legislative body to make changes to the mayor’s recommended budget because it requires a super majority (9 votes). The budget should also need to be acted on, approved or rejected, by the City Council,” she said.
Rossi also believes the current requirement that a rejected budget goes into law by default needs changing.
“A rejection should send it back to the mayor and the budget should require an approval vote by the council to go into effect. A budget should not go into in to effect because of no action or a negative vote of the legislative body. I also believe it would be beneficial for the budget process to move the approval timeline into June so that the city has better state revenue numbers and so the process is not rushed,” she said.
In summarizing her work so far, Rossi said she looks forward to moving the process along once her address is given next week.
“I look forward to working and meeting with City Council members to approve a balanced and honest budget. We find ourselves in a tough situation but I am confident that working together we will be successful and pass a budget that will move West Haven in the right direction,” she said.