Friday, March 13, 2009

Milford budget battle heats up

In what has already turned into a bizarre 2009 budget season, Milford Mayor Jim Richetelli has submitted a revised city budget to the Board of Aldermen (BOA).

A short history of the budget conflict is in order. It started when our mayor disappeared without explanation back in January, only to end up in a Delaware rehab. We applaud the mayor for getting the medical treatment he needed and we wish him total success in his personal struggle, but the circumstances of his exit and the subsequent actions of his staff raised a lot of eyebrows here.

When several days had elapsed without any official word of the mayor's absence, and with no notification of the Board of Aldermen and transition of power to an acting mayor as required by law, Ben Blake (D), Chairman of the BOA had to track down someone at City Hall who finally admitted the mayor was in an "out-of-state facility", and would be gone for several weeks. Only then was Blake officially bestowed as acting mayor.

God only knows what sort of disaster might have occurred if there was a significant emergency during those several days before we had an acting chief executive in place! This lack of coherence to the rule of law is troubling at best.

Additionally, when the acting mayor requested to see the mayor's budget, a City Hall staffer initially refused to hand it over, possibly through a misguided sense of loyalty. Only after getting an opinion from the City Attorney's office did the employee obey the acting mayor as required by law.

The mayor arrived back in town after a 30-day stint in rehab, and again, we are uniform in our support of Jim Richetelli in his personal battle against addiction. However, NO illness should be used as a shield against criticism of a mayor's public policy, and there was a lot to complain about with the budget he finally submitted.

The mayor's budget included a massive 5.7% increase over last year's budget, and according to Richetelli:
“The budget I put out every year includes the core, essential needs of the city and reflects their realistic cost, but can there be cuts? Yes, and there certainly will be."
So what the mayor was saying is that the increases are absolutely essential, yet there certainly will be cuts! He proposed a budget that he admitted was faulty from the get-go!

The only plausible explanation for this budget is that he wanted the BOA and the Board of Finance (BOF) to be the bad guys with the budget, either by raising taxes while we're in a deep recession, or having them cut city services, and then he could go to the voters and say, "Look, I tried to save these jobs/services, but the BOA/BOF wanted them cut, so what could I do?"

Well, this certainly generated a huge backlash among city Democrats (and fiscally-responsible Republicans and Unaffiliated voters), so the mayor quickly set to work to redraw the budget.

Now a month later, Mayor Richetelli somehow squeezed $6.125 Million out of the budget. He's taking $4.5 Million from surplus accounts, and is trying to get wage concessions from city unions to save $800,000. The big question is, where did the mayor find this money that apparently wasn't available a month ago when he tried to push his original budget?

From an article in the New Haven Register:
(Milford Democratic Town Committee Chairman Rich) Smith said it’s interesting that one month later Richetelli has found $6 million in savings.

“Now, obviously responding to public outrage and pressure from the Democrats, the mayor has suddenly found religion,” Smith said. “While we’re happy to bare witness to this burning bush conversion, we do think his projected numbers are a bit too fanciful.”


Smith also said the mayor seemingly wants to have his cake and eat it too. He said last year the mayor and the GOP blasted Democrats for making cuts to the undesignated fund balance and the post employment benefits accounts. The mayor and Republicans called those moves “reckless and irresponsible,” Smith said.

Richetelli proposes to use an additional $2 million from the undesignated fund balance, and to reduce the post employment benefits account by $100,000.

“Funny how that works, I guess it’s not as reckless when he does it,” Smith said.
Smith went on to say the revised budget assumes the unions will finalize their agreement to concessions, and projects income from a future sale of municipal land.

Providing all the details work out, the mayor's new budget is more in line with what the Democrats were pushing for all along. But the question remains: if there was $6 Million available for the taking, why didn't the mayor simply include it in his original budget?

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