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4/5/2013 - A Message from Mayor Finch Regarding the 2013-14 Budget
I wanted to take this opportunity to talk to you about the budget I have proposed for the 2013-14 fiscal year. We are facing some unique challenges this fiscal year, as the city of Bridgeport could be dealt $11 million in lost revenue as a result of the budget currently proposed by the governor. I wanted to further explain the cuts that could possibly be heading our way. I also wanted to take this opportunity to inform you of where there are increases in our budget and to demonstrate what we are doing to save taxpayers money.

The budget I have presented reflects all of the governor's proposed budget cuts -- estimated at $11 million in lost revenue.

Among the lost revenues under Governor Malloy's current proposal are:

$6.2 million in Pequot gaming funds, which will be moved to the Local Capital Improvement Program. This move will not allow the City to use these funds for annual debt reduction or other general operating uses.

Bridgeport is home to two state-owned correctional facilities. By statute, our city should receive a little over $10 million. We were receiving only $2.8 million, 27 cents on the dollar. Under the governor's proposed budget, this payment is eliminated entirely.

$1.2 million in school transportation and $1 million in hospital and universities payments are eliminated from the city's budget.

These cuts will have a major impact on our mill rate and services. I am asking you to please contact your state legislator and tell them that you do not want these budget cuts approved because they will lead to higher taxes in Bridgeport.

Despite these potential revenue losses if the legislature approves the governor's budget, we continue to take measures to save taxpayers money and expand efforts to create a leaner, more efficient work force.

For the past five years, we've done more with less by cutting spending, reducing our work force, reining in police overtime, increasing recycling rates, lowering our utility costs and working with nearly every labor union in the city to gain concessions.

Our city has been at the forefront of successful labor union negotiations, most notably in health care costs. Our employees pay more towards their health care costs than any city in the state.

This has saved city taxpayers more than $8 million, and we appreciate the efforts of our union members to help shoulder the ever-increasing cost of health care. As a result of these union concessions, the active employees' health insurance spending in the 2013-14 budget has held even with no major increases. Due to the challenges we face in the budget, I must reach out again and ask all our unions to collectively find savings of $1.6 million to avoid a possible reduction in staff.

My administration is working hard every day to lessen the taxpayers' burden. Our BGreen 2020 initiatives have saved us nearly $4 million through effective energy management, energy conservation measures, increased recycling rates and municipal consolidation efforts.

We are also successfully attracting new business and development to Bridgeport, bringing in more jobs, more residents and more tax revenue. Downtown continues to grow thanks to the completion of 333 State St., and construction has begun on the next phases of the Bijou Square development. Bass Pro Shops has signed a letter of intent to become the first anchor tenant in the Steelpointe Harbor development. Our Eco-Industrial Park has attracted several new green businesses to Bridgeport. The $53 million growth in our current Grand List validates our economic development strategies.

In the past year, we have added 20 new police officers and 21 firefighters to the ranks of our public safety personnel, thanks in part, to federal grants which will help defray their salaries for up to three years. The police department is now responsible for school security and has, in conjunction with the school board, implemented a Safe Corridors program to ensure students have a safe path to and from schools, and to make our schools more secure. We are placing a laser-like focus on reducing police overtime expenses -- this year's budget shows a $1 million reduction.

Overall, the proposed FY2013-14 budget reflects minimal departmental budget growth -- the growth that is included reflects contractual obligations, and focuses on public safety and essential core services.

For FY2013-14, appropriations have increased by 2.25 percent; revenues decreased by 1 percent, and are driven by two factors:

Pension funding increases -- This includes the state-mandated increased contribution to our closed fund contribution plans, and the conversion to the state CMERS pension fund for fire department, and soon, police department pensions. This conversion will help stabilize the city's long-term financial contributions to pensions, and end the city's defined benefit pension funds.

Debt service growth due to an historic investment in education infrastructure -- Thanks to the actions of my administration and the City Council, we are working more closely with the Board of Education to provide better educational opportunities for our children than ever before.

We have pursued an aggressive school construction initiative to give Bridgeport students state-of-the-art facilities and to pump millions of dollars into our local economy. These school construction projects take advantage of a `grandfathered' 80-percent state funding program with a 20-percent local match. Recent changes in state law eliminate the 80/20 funding ratio for school construction projects and will require municipalities to fund a much higher match. That is why we are building much needed new schools now to avoid having to pay more in the future.

The proposed budget I submitted includes an approximate 2.5 mill increase, which assumes that all of the governor's proposed cuts are not restored. I assure you that in the weeks to come, we will work closely together both here at home, and at the state Legislature to minimize the impact the governor's proposed budget will have on our proposed budget.

If we are successful working together to restore these cuts, we could see a budget with a very modest increase that would work out to $16 per month for the average household.

I have proven to you during the last five years that I will spend your tax dollars with the utmost responsibility. Working together, we will do everything in our power to ensure that your tax dollars are being used properly to invest in our collective future.

To learn more about the budget and to take an active role in the budget process, I invite you to join me for my first public budget overview meeting on Wednesday, April 10, at 6 p.m. at Luis Munoz Marin School, 479 Helen Street.