New London City Council should not act hastily to rebuild fund balance
Less than two weeks ago, on April 9, The Day editorial board applauded the City Council for tabling $2.2 million in additional borrowing requested by the administration while approving $4.4 million of the original $6.6 million requested. The Day correctly observed that "addressing prior poor financial management by using the city's credit card may not be the city's best choice, only the easiest."
Fast forward to April 20, and The Day editorial board does an about-face, improvidently endorsing that "easiest" choice by endorsing the bonding of another $1.1 million to replenish the city's fund balance.
Two weeks ago, The Day understood the need for additional information to support any further borrowing to fund current finances. Yet, to date, the administration has provided no additional information to justify an imprudent strategy of borrowing to meet current spending. Equally unsubstantiated is the editorial board's declaration that the city's cash flow problems have improved.
Actually, analyzing the city's current finances remains impossible because the finance department is incapable or unwilling to produce a cash flow analysis. That basic financial statement is crucial for any business. Not having a cash flow analysis available means the city has no way to know where its money is going and it means the finance department is operating without a cash flow budget, essentially flying blind.
This explains the fiscal emergencies that routinely arise in the closing months of the city's fiscal year when the cash simply runs out. Of course, past administrations haven't so deliberately focused the public's attention on the issue. The public scrutiny is probably a good thing, so long as the public also gets the facts. Simply borrowing money at the end of a fiscal year does nothing to address the systemic problem. Indeed, it's a new and reckless strategy.
The City Council would be right to stand its ground and refuse any additional borrowing to merely shore up the city's current financial difficulties. The administration's request today for council to remove from the table a previous request for an additional $1.1 million in borrowing is unjustified in light of council's approval of $4.4 million in borrowing only two weeks ago, on April 7.
As it is, reasonable people may disagree over the wisdom of approving the previous $4.4 million in borrowing, $3.3 million of which is earmarked merely to prop up the city's current finances. The claim that this eleventh- hour request to borrow another $1.1 million will somehow save the city's bond rating is not credible. The rating agencies are not so easily manipulated.
So long as the finance department is incapable of giving the council a solid prediction on how the city will likely end the current fiscal year, $1.1 million borrowed in May to increase the fund balance could easily evaporate on June 30 in an unpredicted and yet unknown current fiscal year deficit.
A plan to rebuild the fund balance must be carefully developed and resolutely implemented. A well thought-out plan will surely not include borrowing. It should include an aggressive plan to pursue uncollected revenues, as in the successful recovery of overdue grants for Jennings School and the current effort to market the Lighthouse Inn. It should also include a policy of earmarking one-time revenues for fund balance replenishment, and it should include budgeting money each fiscal year for the fund balance until the city is once again carrying a healthy fund balance.
But the council should not be presented with an eleventh-hour plan and pressured to act without the ability to develop and consider alternatives and allow time for public input.
The writer is a member of the New London City Council.
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