Though Bridgeport was a hub of industrial production and wealth throughout much of the 20th Century, the roots of its economic troubles date all the way back to 1960, years before the first Bridgeport factory shuttered its doors. That year, the Connecticut General Assembly, led by suburban interests, abolished the state’s eight county governments, leaving Bridgeport and other cities in the state to fend for themselves.
Not surprisingly, by the late 1980’s the city was in fiscal crises. In 1989, Mayor Tom Bucci declared the city insolvent and sought $50M in state-secured bond funding to bail it out. The State agreed under the condition that Bridgeport’s budget fall under the strict oversight of a newly formed 9-member financial review board. The panel was appointed by the State and was made up of state-level and local government officials.
The financial review board required Bucci and his successor, Mayor Mary Moran, to create a feasible three-year financial plan and to keep the city’s budget balanced. They reviewed the city’s income and expenses every month for over five years. During that time, city property taxes went up one or two of the years and didn’t go up the other years. The objective was not to keep taxes flat, but simply to ensure that the budget was balanced.
Both Bucci and Moran chafed under the board’s oversight and the City’s financial situation remained in critical condition. Not until Mayor Joe Ganim and his administration were able to achieve a balanced budget for four consecutive years, did the city meet the state’s conditions. At that point, the committee was dissolved. A balanced budget was achieved but the committee in this structure, failed to address the financial conditions that still plague us today – i.e. they did not address the large and growing obligations. The can was kicked down the road. A better solution needs to be considered.
Core Members Lilly Alves, Nicole Cassidy, and Niels Heilmann thoughtfully analyzed a better solution, to establish a permanent Financial Task Force that would advise City Council and the Mayor on the City Budget.
RESEARCH AND POLICY
Financial Task Force Research
POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS for Mayor’s Office and City Council:
- Short-term: Write and pass an ordinance creating a Financial Task Force
- Long-term: Establish a separate Board of Finance through Charter reform. Refer to the City of Stamford Board of Finance for inspiration.
City Council Comments
All 7 City Council Members in attendance at our June meeting said they would support an ordinance creating a Financial Task Force or Advisory Board.