With the Municipal Accountability Review Board looking for “structural changes” to the city’s proposed budget before it releases a hoped-for $8 million in aid, Mayor Nancy Rossi is expecting to work with the City Council over the next few weeks to come up with more changes.
During a meeting with the MARB last week, Rossi was given specific concerns by the panel, which was not impressed with what it saw. Among the panel’s concerns were the lack of a five-year plan it hoped to review and “structural changes” to the city’s financial house.
Indeed, discussed during last week’s meeting was the passage of a mid-year supplemental tax to increase the city’s revenue stream.
Reviewing what her proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019 cuts, Rossi defended her decisions and hopes the state’s Office of Policy and Management will approve the $8 million aid package.
“The budget will require OPM to release the approved $8 million to the city. The proposed budget is very conservative in regard to revenue and expenditure estimates. The budget cuts 17 positions, which includes 5 positions with the elimination of the Adult Day Care program. The recommended budget also reduces the hours and benefits from several more positions city-wide. The savings from these cuts will be over $1 million in the general fund,” she said. “The budget for the first time in recent history properly funds the health care costs for active city employees and retirees. The budget also responsibly funds Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) for retired city employees. These two areas have been major drivers in creating past budget deficits.”
Rossi, who took some heat during last week’s MARB session, seemed to tell both MARB and residents getting the city on a smart fiscal path won’t happen over night.
“I know people would like a miracle solution–but the truth is there is no such thing and it will take time and patience to get the city back on tract. The budget just presented is a positive first step to accountability and fiscal responsibility,” she said.
She understand the state board is looking for newer cuts, and she’s hoping the City Council’s review process, which ends with a budget ordinance resolution on May 3, will result in further cost savings.
“As we move through the budget process in the coming weeks, I will continue to work with the city council and make recommendations for additional cost savings,” she said.
Ironically, while the mayor is attempting to find ways to cut costs, several city contracts are up for renegotiation, which will put further strain on bargainers and officials.
Rossi sent a shot across the bow by alerting unions not to expect too much in the way of increased pay or benefits packages. The MARB rejected a contract finalized with the city’s emergency dispatchers last month.
“The City Council will have to join the MARB and me in asking that city employees, both union and non-union, make additional sacrifices that will save money in the short term but also make needed changes to future benefits that will be sustainable and affordable,” she said.
To show the straits the city is in, Rossi ordered the Savin Rock Conference Center to halt taking reservations for events last week. The center has run deficits in the past few years. Rossi is hoping to find an outside concern to run the facility.
“We have also announced the city has stopped taking reservations at the Savin Rock Conference Center because of continued annual operating deficits. We will issue a Request for Proposals to entertain proposals for the building that will generate much needed revenue to the city,” she said.
Attempting to come up with newer and deeper cuts, Rossi was asked what parts of the budget were up for discussion and what were insulated from any new spending cuts. She said everything item was up for discussion.
“I think all areas of the budget need to be on the table for additional cuts. West Haven has a spending problem and my recommended budget addressed many of the areas of concern but there is certainly more work to be done. Our cost-saving measures will be an on-going process and recommendations will be made to the City Council,” she said.
Meanwhile, department heads are being asked to be selective in those decisions they make regarding purchases and overtime, according to Rossi.
“Department heads have been given a directive to approve only essential purchases and overtime. I am not satisfied that we have reduced spending and overtime to the levels I expected and I will revisit the policy with each department head. We will develop shifts that will include nights and weekends to cut our overtime requirements and costs. The City of West Haven has not done a very good job with assigning personnel and staffing events–and it needs to change and change quickly if we are going to significantly reduce our overtime costs. This will be a continuing priority of mine and this administration,” she said.
Two weeks ago, the city announced it will reinstitute the “Boot Program” to find and collect levies from motor vehicle scofflaws.
Rossi said she had no specific amounts the program is supposed to collect.
“The boot program will increase the collection rate of late and delinquent motor vehicle tax revenue. We are also looking at personal property tax audits and being overall more aggressive collecting all funds owed the city,” she said.
Rossi said the last several months have been difficult, but she is determined to get the city’s financial house in order.
“The past four months have been challenging as we learn to operate with state oversight in the State Municipal Accountability Review Board. We inherited a very difficult fiscal situation, one that we knew we would have to deal with, and now it’s our job to make the decisions necessary to fix the problems we face. “