By Josh LaBella
Mayor Nancy Rossi said the reason she decided to run again is because the work she has started is not finished.
“I’ve started it, we’ve made very good progress with it, but I’m far from being finished,” said Rossi. “I believe I’m the one that has the best credential and will to do what need to be done.”
The mayor said she has proven that with the sometimes unpopular budget cuts and decisions she has made. She pointed to the city being “in the black” for the first time since 2005 as evidence it is on the right track.
Rossi said she will continue to focus on city finances, which she says is key to all other issues the city faces.
“Anything that requires more money, if you don’t have it, you’re going to have a problem,” said Rossi. “Whether it’s filling potholes or paying overtime. Whatever it is, you have to have money to do it.”
Rossi said in order to get the city’s “fiscal house in order” she needs to continue what she has been doing while also having more time to work on economic development. Two examples she cited for tough financial choices she made were the closing of the adult day care program and the suspension of the Savin Rock Festival.
Rossi said the adult day care did not serve many people when she closed it, but continued to run a deficit. She said former mayor and current mayoral candidate Ed O’Brien should have ended it when he got into office in 2013.
“If, when Ed got in, he had closed this,” said Rossi, “the taxpayers would have saved nearly a million dollars.”
Rossi showed the financial records of day care which show continued deficits year over year and two transfers in from the general fund – $629,000 by the O’Brien administration in 2016 and $278,342 in 2018 by the Rossi administration when they balanced and closed the program.
In reference to the Savin Rock Festival, Rossi said the fact that she did not pay the balance is indication that she never intended to entirely end the event.
Vis-à-vis other financial achievements, Rossi also said she cut the corporation council by 30 percent when she got into office and instead brought in six law students from Quinnipiac University as interns.
Rossi said she is proud of her relationship with the unions of the city. She said without the unions agreeing to take no raises in contract renegotiations the city would be in a more dire financial position.
The mayor said volunteers, such as the group West Haven United, have helped by cleaning up public spaces in the stead of public works. Overall, Rossi said the city has cut overtime, excluding public safety, by 61 percent.
“We’ve done what we can to save money wherever we can and raising revenues,” she said. “So now we have the sales of the two schools [Stiles and Thompson] and we have an offer on the Blake Building. We’re trying to market anything we own.”
Rossi said the city is trying to sell any property that is not essential to developers so it no longer has to maintain it and it can go back on the tax rolls. She said the onetime revenue from property sales will be used to pay outstanding balances.
“Economic development is the only way we can get out of it,” said Rossi. “Raising taxes is not the answer. I presented two budgets with no tax increases but when we went back there [the MARB required tax increases]. Some people are going to lose their houses over this and that’s what bothers me. Then you’re not collecting anything. I always say, there’s a tipping point.”
Rossi also pointed to the Charter Revision Commission as an accomplishment, adding the old charter was antiquated. She lauded the addition of a city manager, changing in the districts, and a four-year term.
“Charter revision was a big deal to me,” said Rossi. “I think a four-year term is key. We constantly are having primaries. I think it would be best if we only had to deal with this every four years. And from my own perspective, two years is not enough time to get anything done.”
Rossi said she is looking forward to the election being over. She said she is more qualified than the other four candidates running for mayor. She said the O’Brien and Collins are two sides of the same coin who want to put their people in power.
“Debbie and Ed worked closely together,” said Rossi. “They were together at everything. So to me, if we’re going to blame Ed for the deficit doubling, she was there.”
The mayor pointed to Collins budget in the city clerk’s office, which showed that it ran a deficit in eight of out ten years from 2009 to 2018. The cumulative balance from the decade was negative $97,155.
“If she can’t run her own city clerk budget, and keep it positive, how is she going to run a $165 million city?” said Rossi. “To do this year after year after year is troubling.”
Rossi said she has gotten a positive response from citizens about her campaign so far and that she has been very accessible during her first term. She said she is in it to win it.
“I am keeping a positive outlook but I will be working it,” said Rossi. “You can never take anything for granted. I always say until that last vote is tallied and counted – that’s when we’ll know.”