With a special session of the City Council scheduled for 6 p.m. today, Mayor Nancy Rossi was putting the finishing touches on her first recommended budget and the address she expected to give during the session. Rossi, who has been working since January on cobbling together a budget package had the added requirement of having the state’s review board look at the document before allowing its release today.
The Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) was empaneled by the state’s Office of Policy and Management late last year when the city retired its $16 million operating deficit by means of a $25 million bond issue. The board was required under new legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2017.
Asked about the review by the panel, Rossi said she was still addressing queries made, but expects to have the proposal ready for release before the council.
“The draft budget was submitted to the Municipal Accountability Review Board. OPM has reviewed the draft proposal and has submitted questions that I am responding to,” she said. “I don’t expect any major issues with the MARB because of the fact I have submitted a proposed budget with conservative revenues and significant cuts in expenditures.”
Asked about what issues the panel might have had, she said they were more in line with getting understanding than questioning line items.
“The questions were more to understand and clarify decisions I proposed in the recommended budget,” she said.
In the weeks leading up to today’s announcement, Rossi cautioned residents this spending package was going to be short on perks and long on austerity. She reiterated that caution this week.
“My recommended budget is painful and uncomfortable but it is honest and balanced, and more importantly necessary,” she said. “There will be no tax increase included in the city’s budget and we will maintain our most critical services. This budget proposal is just the beginning of many tough decisions that will have to be made to improve West Haven’s financial health.”
Education is more than half of the city’s budget, and Rossi was asked what the city’s Education Department could expect in the way of this year’s spending. She wasn’t encouraging.
“The Board of Education will receive a modest increase in funding but unfortunately it is much less than they requested. I wish the city was in a position to better fund the school board’s request but the truth and fact is that we are not. I am confident that the Board of Education and the Superintendent will be resourceful and successful in reducing their budget to match the available funding appropriation,” she said.
As far as what the bottom line will be – larger or smaller than the current budget – Rossi was noncommittal.
“The recommended budget is not final and I continue to make changes, but I expect that the bottom line will be very close to last year’s budget. We cannot afford growth in the budget and had to significantly cut expenditures and positions to hold the line on spending,” she said.
Once the budget is proposed this afternoon, the council will set a date for a public hearing. Following the hearing the council goes through a six-week review of the budget before finalizing it in an ordinance on the first Thursday of May, according to the city charter.
During the review the council may make alterations in the budget, but over the years that has been a mountain to climb. Under the charter, a nine-vote supermajority on the 13-member council must vote in the affirmative in order to make changes.
One way or the other, the city will have a budget in place by May 3. The charter currently requires the council either accepts or modifies the budget, but it cannot reject it. A vote to reject means the budget proposed by the mayor goes into effect by default. That has happened twice in the city’s history.