Bridgeport Council eyes extra library $$$
Updated 11:24 am, Monday, April 16, 2018
BRIDGEPORT — Mayor Joe Ganim earlier this month told the City Council he was presenting them a $561 million budget proposal that, for the second year in a row, “holds the line” on property taxes.
But council members have since learned that a 0.3 mills increase was baked in to pay for a $1.7 million increase in public library funding that voters approved last November.
Now the council is looking for places to cut.
“That’s my understanding,” said Council President Aidee Nieves, who said the council will work with the Ganim administration to identify budget cuts to fund that $1.7 million.
“It is on the radar,” Nieves said. The council will vote on a final city fiscal plan in May.
Ganim and Nieves had opposed efforts by the library board and its supporters to force a November referendum altering an existing, voter-approved formula that guarantees Bridgeport’s libraries a certain amount of money annually. That formula was approved in 2009.
While last year’s referendum effort had been discussed at library board meetings, it was not widely advertised until days before the Nov. 7 election, catching many city officials and
politicians off guard.
Ganim scrambled to convince residents to reject the proposal, warning it would increase their taxes in the 2018/19 budget he presented the council this month. Bridgeport’s tax/mill rate is already one of the highest in Connecticut — 54.37 mills.
Library advocates argued the mayor and council would be able to come up with the extra dollars without raising taxes.
Ultimately voters decided they wanted more money for the libraries, with 2,326 in favor and 1,644 against the referendum.
In presenting his proposed $561 million spending plan to the council on April 2, Ganim, in a cover letter, claimed to be holding the line on taxes.
But the final paragraph of Ganim’s letter suggested that was not the case: “This budget includes an appropriation increase of approximately $1.7 million for the library as a result of last year’s local referendum. While I am against supporting any increase in property taxes to fund this .3 mill increase, the council will have the opportunity as part of this budgeting process to decide how this increase ought to be funded.”
Nieves and other council members said Ganim’s budget staff told them about the library money before he presented his spending plan.
“So it’s on us as a council to figure out how to cut expenses to fund this, or it is going to be a tax increase to fund it,” said Councilwoman Christina Smith, a member of the budget committee.
Smith, who for two years was the city’s grants director, said she is going through the budget, department by department, seeking the necessary savings. Smith is particularly focused on looking at what departments requested last year and what they actually spent.
“There’s a tendency to over-budget,” Smith said. “I know from my experience working in the city (that) this was almost part of the process. You’d put in the same (request) you put in last year, even if, year over year, your spending was less than that.”
Assistant City Librarian John Soltis said library staff have met with the Ganim administration about their overall budget and “the city has been very helpful.” But Soltis, who also lives in Bridgeport, added there is no reason to have to raise taxes to provide the libraries the additional $1.7 million.
“The voters spoke at the referendum,” Soltis said. “Our budget is such a small portion of the city — $8 million. We’re hardly anything. It just would seem to me that there would be fat (in Ganim’s $561 million proposal) that could be trimmed.”
The council’s budget committee will hold a public hearing on the library and education budgets at 6 p.m. April 24 at City Hall, 45 Lyon Terrace.