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Chicken Little Finizio

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published April 23. 2014 4:00AM

Three of seven New London city councilors this week flatly rejected Mayor Daryl Finizio's alarmist plea to borrow another million dollars, on top of the $4.4 million the council agreed to borrow earlier this month, to stabilize city finances.

After listening for an hour Monday evening to City Finance Director Jeff Smith duck hard budget questions from skeptical councilors, I can understand why they remained unconvinced of the need for additional borrowing.

Pinning Smith down on pertinent budget questions looks like it might be harder than trapping a greased pig.

"You do a nice two-step in not answering the question," Councilor Martin T. Olsen complained to Smith during a Finance Committee portion of the night's budget talks.

Councilor Michael Passero grew almost hostile with Smith, as the finance director bobbed and weaved in his evasive answers, on topics ranging from the estimated costs of the new borrowing to how an electric car in the administration's proposed budget would be paid for.

Smith himself appeared hostile when, after persistent questions from Passero about the city's lack of a basic cash flow budget, a planning analysis of how money comes in and out, he told the councilor that of course he knows what a cash flow budget is.

But then he couldn't say whether the city has one and if not, why not.

Indeed, whether you agree with the mayor's assessment that the financial sky has fallen in New London, it seems clear that city finances have been woefully mismanaged.

How else could there be an emergency meeting called to say the city can't meet next week's payroll?

Imagine your spouse announcing out of the blue at breakfast one morning that there is no money to pay the rent that is due by the end of the week.

It seems Passero is right that managing cash flow should be basic planning, municipal accounting 101. Passero went on to complain about being "muscled" into borrowing another $1 million.

Finizio has been mayor more than two years, and he can no longer blame cash flow problems and the lack of planning for them on old administrations. He owns it.

The other important objection Passero raised Monday is that the emergency meeting called to consider the additional $1 million in borrowing was originally called as a closed-door executive session.

Plans for the closed session were scrapped on Monday. A former mayor took me downstairs in City Hall Monday to look on the bulletin board at the Monday afternoon time stamp for the revised emergency meeting notice, as he offered his opinion that proper advance notice was not given for the evening session.

The mayor's Monday session to discuss how he claims the sky has fallen was a reminder of another inappropriate call for an executive session, back in 2012, when the excuse for secrecy was said to be real estate transactions.

The mayor relented then on having an executive session, after being told it would be illegal, and called a press conference instead to say the sky was about to fall.

All the intelligent discussion I heard Monday evening about the borrowing plan came from the opposing councilors. The other councilors who voted for the Finizio plan might have just as well baahed like good sheep.

Councilor Erica Richardson made one of the most inane comments I've ever heard from a public official at a municipal meeting, and I've covered a lot of them over the years.

Richardson, expressing exasperation about city finances and things like deferred maintenance of buildings, as she looked up at the peeling paint on the ceiling, said someone needs to find a new source of a lot of revenue, and it can't be tax dollars.

Earth to Councilor Richardson: Municipal finances are about balancing spending with tax revenues, with some state grant money and borrowing for capital improvements thrown in.

There is no Santa Claus.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

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