Newly-elected New Britain Mayor Tim O’Brien is sounding the alarm bells and calling in an auditing firm to figure out why the city is running a deficit of nearly $12 million.
In an afternoon press conference, O’Brien said in the two weeks that he’s taken office he’s been reviewing the city’s finances which “are considerably worse off than the public had been told.”
He said he’s going to be hiring an independent auditing firm to figure out where the deficit for the current fiscal year came from, even though he has his suspicions. And despite the political battles of the past, O’Brien said he’s not publicly casting blame on the previous Republican administration run by former Mayor Timothy Stewart.
“I’m not going to make any speculations about the past,” O’Brien, a Democrat, said. “My work here is moving forward, taking what we have today and doing what’s right for the city.”
“They have no clue what they’re doing,“ Stewart, who was enjoying his retirement on the golf course, said Monday in a phone interview. “What they’re doing is trying to set up people for a tax increase next year.”
Stewart alleged O’Brien never even talked to the Finance Department about this deficit.
But O’Brien said that’s absolutely not true. He said the deficit was disclosed to him when he took office and he’s dealing with it as appropriately and transparently as he can.
“We are not making policy decisions right now,” O’Brien said. But he did rule out a mid-year tax increase.
There was some speculation about a deficit though before O’Brien took office.
“It was openly known that there were difficulties, but this deficit is considerably larger than anyone, than certainly I expected it to be,” O’Brien said Monday.
He said the current budget counts on $5 million from the sale of city property. Since the city is already halfway through the fiscal year he doubted that a number that large was achievable.
Stewart alleges that the Democratic majority on the Common Council budgeted $5 million in that account and not his office, even though as mayor he said he was obligated to make sure the city realized that revenue.
Stewart decided not to seek re-election this year and O’Brien was sworn in two weeks ago after handily defeating his two opponents.
O’Brien said there’s also a $6.5 million line item in the budget for workforce reduction, which is “nebulous.”
“Basically it’s a line item of, ‘We’re simply going to reduce this mystery account later,’” O’Brien said. “There’s other bits and pieces, but that right there adds up to $11.5 million.”
Stewart said the “workforce reduction” line item is the savings and concessions he got from negotiations with city employees.
O’Brien said the finance department told him there was initially a plan for that line item, but that there was no follow through or progress to report.
In the Council’s meeting minutes from June 14, 2011, Stewart blames the Democrat-controlled Council for inflating the projected revenues in his budget and the workforce reduction savings.
“The Council is taking that same route again by arbitrarily increasing the property tax
collection rate, the workforce reduction savings and the amount of property sales revenue without any documentation to back up these changes,” Stewart said. “This is another hypocritical act by Council Democrats.“
Stewart said Monday that Democrats are now caught holding the bag and there’s no one left to blame but themselves.
But O’Brien refrained from placing any blame on the previous administration at the press conference.
“I am in no way pointing fingers or trying to assign blame,” O’Brien said. “My purpose here is to get to what the problem is we actually have before us. To let the public know openly and honestly what is happening, so that we’re in a position to be able to make decisions together for the better of our city.”