President. Honorable Leaders and Members of the Common Council, Madam Clerk, City Officials, Department Directors, Employees and my fellow Danburians.
In accordance with the my duties as Mayor and those prescribed by the Charter of the City of Danbury, I respectfully present my proposed budget, and the Comprehensive Capital improvement plan for the fiscal year 2009-2010.
Before I begin my budget details, let me say thank you to the legislative body of our city, the Common Council, and its leadership. Our Council spends hours working on the City’s business in a voluntary capacity. In the coming month, they will be giving up their evenings and weekends to deliberate over this body of work. For their dedication and commitment we should all be thankful.
I would also like to thank our Director of Finance David St. Hilaire. David has spent hundreds of hours poring over these numbers and with the aid of his capable assistant Judy Baris, they have been able to create a first class document that all of us can be proud of.
Ladies and gentlemen, as in the past, Danbury stands on strong financial footing. We continue to maintain the highest credit rating and bond rating in our history.
This year I am proud to report to you that Standard and Poor’s, the largest of the three credit rating agencies, has upgraded us because of our sound financial practices and our strong financial performance.
We continue to have one of the lowest effective property tax rates in the state and our sewer and water rates are 100% below the state average.
I would encourage you to review the graphs and charts that are included in your budget. In particular, I would like to point out our low debt service rate and our high fund balance. Both of those numbers continue to remain healthy and strong.
Central to the operation of our local government is our mission statement. Our mission statement defines and drives our purpose and our decision making process in the City of Danbury.
“The City of Danbury’s mission is to ensure a superior quality of life for its citizens by providing the most cost effective municipal services while preserving the cultural, historical and natural resources of the City. We are committed to working with citizens to enhance Danbury’s position as a premier place to live, work, and raise a family in a traditional yet progressive community” This year’s spending plan reflects that mission, but does so in an increasingly difficult economic environment.
I cannot think of any other time in the history of our city with the exception of the Great Depression, that we have been challenged as we are today.
Let’s make no mistake. The current economic crisis that has engulfed us is not the fault of any of our residents or our city government.
Unfortunately, Wall Street’s irresponsible gambling and the poor decisions made by financial institutions in general, have brought the economic crisis to our Main Street.
This year’s spending plan meets the challenge, but does not relieve us of a burden created by greed and arrogance of the financial industry, that we will be face for years to come.
We are faced with declining revenues in every aspect of the budget. Specifically, our building permits are down 27.8% reflecting the current national recession.
Our motor vehicle grand list is down $21,000,000 reflecting the slowdown in motor vehicle sales.
Our investment incomes are off by almost 50% reflecting lower interest rates.
Our grand list has dropped by 8 million dollars.
In the coming year, we expect a 22% decline in permits and license revenue.
In response to these challenges, we have already taken a number of proactive steps to help mitigate the downturn in this year’s economy, some of the highlights include:
• Implemented a spending freeze and a hiring freeze.
• Deferred filling 14 positions.
• Implemented a 4 Day work week to save on energy and overtime costs.
• Deferred some capital projects.
• Renegotiated energy costs and other expenditures with our vendors.
• Conducted internal assessments and reviews of financial practices of various departments.
• Reviewed the assignment of city vehicles.
In the 2009-2010 budget, I recommend that we continue these cost cutting practices and in some cases expand on them. In the next fiscal year I am recommending that we:
• Eliminate the14 unfilled positions with an approximate savings of $1,000,000 in salary and benefits.
• Implement the Early Retirement Program to eliminate a minimum of 10 positions providing an additional savings of $700,000.
• Retool our health insurance programs to offer more voluntary options for our employees.
• Eliminate under-utilized office equipment; we have even eliminated water coolers! cost savings: $13,000.
• Implement aggressive tax collection methods to clear up any aging receivables.
• Continue to monitor and regulate overtime expenditures.
• Eliminate salary increases for our Department Heads as well as the Office of Mayor.
• Look to develop new ways to generate revenue.
I have also taken several steps to help us as we develop our 2009/2010 budget.
We have renegotiated and locked in our Heating Oil price at $2.18 per gallon and our Gasoline price at $1.74 per gallon. This will save the City of Danbury hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs.
For managers hired after January 1st 2009, I have eliminated free “retiree” medical insurance, and require a contribution to our pension plan.
In addition, new managers hired after January 1st 2009, will have a lower cost medical plan as opposed to the costlier health care plan that is currently offered.
All of these decisions represent a sweeping change in our employee benefits for our senior staff.
While these strategies will be effective, we must continue to reduce spending at every opportunity, while we weather the economic storm around us.
That is why the 2009-2010 budget is a “zero growth budget”.
Our general government operations budget is approximately 1 million dollars below last year’s general government budget.
In the 2009-2010 budget I am also proposing that we borrow no money to fund our Capital Improvement Program, all capital improvements will rely on previously authorized funding or on the federal economic stimulus program.
For the third straight year, I am proposing no increases for sewer and water rates.
For the Education Budget I have proposed a “zero growth” budget of $112,000,000. I know that this will be a difficult challenge for the Board of Education to meet, but we must ask them to continue to refine their numbers in this unsettled economic time. I have no doubt that the Common Council will work with the Board Education to ensure that we are providing services that meet the needs of our children as well as
reflect the taxpayer’s ability to pay.
Finally, I want to commend the Dr. Pascarella, Chairwoman Podhajski, and the members of the Board of Education for the steps that they have already taken at containing cost.
Most important to our mission statement and to quality of life in the City of Danbury is the delivery of public safety services. While most of our budget is designed to reduce spending and eliminate staffing, there is one area that I am recommending an increase of staffing.
On April 21st we will dedicate our new Police Station. As a way to deploy more police officers to patrol, I have included three civilian employees as well as three part-time civilian employees that will form the core of our civilian work force at the Police Station.
We are also applying for federal stimulus funding to provide for civilian dispatching at the new Police Station. The centralizing and civilianizing of dispatch, will allow us to put more officers on the street, and more firefighters in the field, helping us to utilize our staff more effectively and ensuring that we remain the safest city in Connecticut.
Tonight, you will also see a grant application on our agenda for the funding of twelve new police officers under the C.O.P.S. program.
These positions are fully funded by the federal government for the next three years.
The new officers will enhance the bike patrol as well as expand the traffic enforcement division of the Danbury Police Department. The expanded traffic enforcement division will include a new motorcycle patrol with motorcycles purchased through the asset forfeiture fund.
Ladies and gentleman this spending plan represents a maintainenance approach to our government while we wait for the economic climate to improve. As such, there are no other major initiatives.
Earlier this year the Common Council, with my support, opted to change the way we fund grant agencies and work towards developing real metrics and measurable outcomes for our taxpayers.
I have identified several agencies that are performing services for the City of Danbury that we will fund so that we do not have to hire staff to perform the services that they are doing.
I have included funding for three key categories:
The Women’s Center- To provide critical intervention, support, and counseling for those who are victims of family violence.
Danbury Youth Services- To provide critical counseling for challenged youth.
Connecticut Institute for Communities-To provide assistance and capacity building for our non-profits.
The Boughton Street YMCA- Transition dollars to continue offering recreational opportunities for our residents.
The War Memorial- To provide services for our emergency management system, veteran’s activities as well as recreational opportunities for our youth.
The Danbury Council of Veterans-To provide graveside services as well as the Memorial Day Parade.
The Volunteer Center (S.A.V.E.)- Manage our SAVE program
D.A.W.S.- To help manage our animal shelter on the weekends.
One organization, the Danbury VNA, provides critical nursing services for our residents. I am proposing that we enter into a MOU with the V.N.A. which will allow us to pay them for their services that they provide to our residents on a case by case basis.
Approximately $500,000 will be distributed through the grant process established by the Common Council earlier in the year. The task force will distribute money in three key areas:
Economics: This category is designed to promote financial stability and self-sufficiency in the economic crisis. Programs and initiatives that will be funded in this category will be homelessness, housing, financial literacy, job training, and basic needs that are a direct result of the economic crisis.
Education: This category is designed towards helping children, youth, and their families achieve their potential. Programs and initiatives that will be funded include afterschool care and parent education programs.
A well educated workforce attracts world class jobs.
Health: Promoting health and wellness in the community, Programs and initiatives include those to promote a healthy lifestyle, counseling services and home health care.
I also am proposing tonight that we rally the residents of the City of Danbury to support these causes as well. The initiative is called “Danbury cares about Danbury”, will ask our residents to support our investment strategy in Danbury’s non profits and to support their fellow citizens who are experiencing difficult economic times with an additional voluntary donation.
To do so, I have asked our Tax Collector, Scott Ferguson, to design and include a new form in the tax bills to solicit a voluntary donation from our residents. If each taxable property donated just $20.00, we could raise an additional $500,000 for these organizations that would be used to aid our residents in a time of need.
The impact of our spending plan to our residents is critical as we seek to balance our budget, protect our quality of life, and reduce costs.
After careful analysis and much discussion with our Director of Finance, I am recommending that we “freeze” the phase- in of our state mandated revaluation.
This means that with exceptions of new construction and adjustments, the assessments of all property in the City of Danbury will be frozen at their current level. By suspending the phase-in, we can ensure that the taxpayers of Danbury will not be saddled with an assessment that may not be reflective of current market conditions.
The suspension of the phase-in will also allow our residents to have breathing room in an unsettled economic time.
A suspension of the revaluation will also reduce the impact of our budget for our residents.
In order to implement a suspension of the phase-in, the State Legislature must adopt a bill that is pending before it which has passed out of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee with strong bi-partisan support. It is my understanding that this bill has a strong chance of becoming law.
In addition to the suspension of a phase-in, I have also asked the Legislature to consider the possibility of allowing cities and towns to discard their most recent revaluation and give the authority conduct a new revaluation before the next scheduled revaluation date.
Assuming a “freeze” of the phase-in of the revaluation, the impact of the proposed budget to our taxpayers includes a mill rate increase of .31 or little over 1%. A typical home that is assessed at $239,900 currently pays $5121.86 in property taxes. Under the proposed 2009-2010 budget, that same home would pay $5196.23 a difference of $74.36 for the year or approximately $6.00 per month.
Should the Legislature decide not to allow for a suspension of the phasein of the revaluation, we will adopt a mill rate that will reflect our spending plan and implement the next phase of the revaluation according to law.
I am also assuming that state aid will remain relatively flat for the coming fiscal year. Both Governor Rell’s budget, and the legislative Democrats budget that was released on Friday indicates that Danbury will be receiving approximately the same amount of state aid that it received last year.
The 2009-2010 budget does not assume any savings from the proposed early retirement program.
I have also reduced revenue projections to reflect our current economic environment.
In the long term, our corner of Western Connecticut will overcome the economic crisis. However, the economic forecast for the short term shows little in the way of a potential rebound and improvement.
In this economic crisis, with the national unemployment at 8.5%, and possibly reaching 10%, we have choices to make. Those choices are the same choices being made around every kitchen table in our community.
What steps can we take to save money? What steps can we take to ensure that we live within our means?
Some of our residents have lost their jobs, still others have tragically lost their homes, and all of us have seen our most important asset, our home, significantly devalued.
In tough times, we have to make tough decisions.
This spending plan makes the tough decisions.
In essence, the proposed budget reflects the budget that we can afford, not necessarily the one that we would create in good economic times.
During these difficult economic times, people of our community need their local government to be responsive, to be agile and to be compassionate.
It is our duty to let residents know that we are for them and that we care about them.
It is also our duty to provide the services that are necessary to maintain the quality of life that we all enjoy, and at the same time, strive to live within our means.
Tonight, we have been summoned to a higher challenge. A challenge that is bigger than Republican or Democrat, a challenge that is about our community.
This is not the time for partisan politics. It is the time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work on behalf of all of our residents.
This evening, I ask for the Common Council’s support as we work together in a bipartisan fashion to develop our spending plan.
I welcome the Common Council’s input on improving our bottom line. I thank the members of this elective body for their care and concern for our city.
The 2009-2010 proposed budget puts our priorities in order. It reduces spending in general government operations by almost a million dollars, and it balances significant budget cuts with a small contribution from our taxpayers to maintain our quality of life.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe in the strength of this community. Our city will see its way through this difficult time.
It is a time that was not created by us, but must be managed by us. Danbury is blessed with a diverse and strong economic base and a resilient people.
There will be more tough decisions to make in the future. But we will make them together as one community, united in purpose, dedicated to supporting and caring for each other as we face the difficult road that lies ahead.
With these thoughts in mind I respectfully submit to you this budget for our City’s 2009/2010 fiscal year. Thank you, God Bless America and God Bless our Great City.
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