Proposed Finch city budget asks only 'modest' tax hike
Posted in the Trumbull Forum
#1 Apr 3, 2014
BRIDGEPORT -- A year ago, the City Council cut Mayor Bill Finch's proposed $400 tax hike down to $123.
This time, the mayor is avoiding the middle man.
Finch on Wednesday unveiled a 2014-15,$522.9 million budget that would raise the average homeowner's taxes by an estimated $122 annually, and by $300 for commercial properties.
Detailed copies of the budget have been forwarded to the city clerk for the council. It will be formally delivered to the council at its meeting Monday and be available online Thursday.
"The economy's taking a long time to heal, and our families are still up against it," the mayor said.
He called it a "modest tax increase" mainly needed to help fund education and to cover the salaries of 37 police officers and firefighters who have been paid for two years through expiring federal grants.
Two new fire inspectors are also being hired.
Unlike last year, the administration, which is still negotiating several hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of union concessions built into the current $517.1 million budget, will not be making another request of city employees.
"There's no concession request in this budget currently as it stands," said Adam Wood, Finch's chief of staff, who joined the mayor and other key personnel in giving a budget overview to the Connecticut Post. "There is a limit on how many times you can go back to unions."
However, the administration is hoping a pending firefighter contract will be a model for the city as it seeks to cut retirement costs.
As part of a four-year contract extension headed to the City Council for approval, the firefighters' union agreed that new hires will forgo city-provided health coverage once they retire. The argument is those individuals will be able to find benefits through the federal Affordable Care Act.
"That's a significant win, I think, for the city, allowing them to get their arms around post-employment benefits," David Dobbs, vice president of the city's fire union, said in a recent interview.
Andrew Nunn, Finch's chief administrative officer, said the arrangement should also send a signal to the other labor groups now in contract talks with the city.
"They'll see one of our largest unions has done this," Nunn said. "That's obviously the path we're going for."
Finch's budget also contains a minimum-wage increase for 125 workers, many seasonal, to $10.10 an hour. The change mirrors one signed into law last week by Finch's fellow Democrat, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, although that statewide hike is not schedule until 2017.
It will cost about $80,000 to cover the minimum-wage increase for employees -- money that will find its way back into the city's economy, according to the administration.
Finch, who had supported Malloy's proposal, said, "We didn't want to be hypocritical."
Finch said he hopes his budget puts to rest a debate his administration has had with school officials and the state over whether Bridgeport properly funds education and meets a "minimum budget requirement."
The mayor is proposing giving $8.2 million to the school board for its own direct use. That is money the city says it spends on school board services, including security, maintenance and after school programs.
Much of the debate between the city and state is what of those so-called in-kind expenses should be counted toward education spending.
Finch is also proposing spending $1.6 million more on education next
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