The city of Bridgeport has only $223 million available to pay $1.9 billion worth of bills, leaving it with a $1.7 billion financial hole, according to a new independent analysis by the Truth in Accounting (TIA) think tank. The findings were released at a public forum today at the Bridgeport Public Library hosted by Better Bridgeport. More than 100 Bridgeport residents turned out for the event, representing all parts of the city and a mix of political views and affiliations. Many expressed anger and frustration over their taxes and lack of real concern or response by elected officials.
Each taxpayer’s share of Bridgeport’s debt is $32,400, according to TIA. This “taxpayer burden” is the amount each Bridgeport taxpayer would have to pay the city’s treasury in order for Bridgeport to pay off its debt and discharge its other financial obligations. Bridgeport’s taxpayer burden is among the highest in the country and it has grown from $29,600 in 2012, the last year for which TIA calculations are available.
“Fortunately the Administration was able to balance the fiscal 2016 budget. However, Bridgeport has serious structural financial and competitiveness challenges that have grown worse over many years and must be addressed to create a better future,” said former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker, a Bridgeport resident. “Bridgeport needs a comprehensive and credible plan to grow the city’s tax base faster than its budget.”
The TIA report – titled “The Financial State of Bridgeport” – also found that while Bridgeport is now reporting most of its pension debt, the city continues to hide a lot of its unfunded retirement obligations. The city’s hidden retiree health care obligation totals $819.2 million.
“We need truthful and transparent accounting, or we will pay the price later,” said State Senator Marilyn Moore, a Democrat who represents Bridgeport, Monroe and Trumbull. “These numbers presented here today are frightening. Bridgeport’s budget shortfalls will eventually fall on the back of taxpayers, either through additional taxes, continued education cuts, or fewer government programs. We must work together to address our finances in a manner that is transparent and truthful.”
Mayor Joseph P. Ganim and all other Bridgeport elected officials — including six State Representatives and 20 City Council members – were invited to participate in the Citizens Forum. Besides Senator Moore, the other elected officials in attendance were State Senator Ed Gomes, State Representative Steve Stafstrom and Bridgeport City Council Member Scott Burns.
Bridgeport’s Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Flatto spoke about the recent balancing of the city’s budget and pending economic development activity, while acknowledging that the city is facing some financial challenges.
John Marshall Lee, a fiscal watchdog who is a regular presence at Bridgeport City Council meetings, called for an honest budget. “Just look at the Police Department,” he said. “It has about 350 personnel, not 478 ‘filled’ positions as the budget claims. Those added positions won’t be filled this year. And in just three months, the approved police budget of $102 million is projected to be $109.5 million. What’s going on? When he was elected, the Mayor vowed to govern in an accountable, open manner. How does that fit with phony budgeting? And how can the public know what is happening each month when financial reports are not available online?”
“Mayor Ganim failed to keep his campaign promise to ‘hold the line’ on taxes,” said Phil Blagys,a CW4BB cofounder whose family has lived in Bridgeport for over 100 years. “These continued mill rate increases mean higher and higher property taxes plus reduced property values. Bridgeport has become a less attractive place to live and have a business. I worry for our future.”
Truth in Accounting (TIA) has analyzed government financial reporting since 2002. More information: truthinaccounting.org