A Wednesday night time digital assembly provides a take a look at how the six elected officers who sit on the Board of Finance watch the taxpayers’ cash.
The citizen volunteers demonstrated their seriousness about their roles as monetary watchdogs.
To arrange for the assembly, they went by Mayor Caroline Simmons’ proposed 561-page, $329 million metropolis working finances; the 120-page, $91 million capital finances; and Superintendent Tamu Lucero’s 208-page, $315 million faculties finances.
Finance board members perused the finances books for questions they’d like answered earlier than a collection of conferences that start subsequent week, when division heads will come earlier than them to make their instances for why they need to get the funding they’ve requested.
The Board of Finance is an particularly vital physique in Stamford, the place 92 % of the cash wanted to run issues comes from metropolis taxpayers. In Stamford, the state and federal governments collectively contribute solely 3.6 % to finances bills.
Off the bat, member Dennis Mahoney had questions concerning the Board of Training finances. He wished to know the standing of Stamford’s share of the Training Price Sharing grant, an vital supply of college funding that the state distributes to municipalities annually.
Democrats in Hartford have a proposal to extend the grants, however Gov. Ned Lamont’s place on it’s unclear.
The additional state cash “actually would go a great distance towards serving to us with the fiscal cliff,” Mahoney mentioned of a looming $8.8 million deficit Stamford faculties face subsequent 12 months, when COVID-19 aid cash used to fund 120 jobs runs out.
Mahoney wished to know whether or not the town would get the additional cash earlier than Might 17, when the finance board should set the mill fee for the 2023-24 tax payments. In that case, tax payments might be decrease, he mentioned. If the cash ought to arrive after the tax fee is ready, “what occurs to it?” Mahoney wished to know.
It will develop into surplus that the board would allocate within the 2024-25 fiscal 12 months, replied Richard Freedman, Board of Finance chairman. Stamford is ready to obtain about $8 million in Training Price Sharing grant cash from the state, Freedman mentioned, with the potential for one other $8 million.
“That cash would come into the town, not the Board of Training. As soon as we set the Board of Training finances, they’ll’t spend it,” Freedman mentioned. “So it won’t have an effect on the Board of Training finances this 12 months, but it surely clearly impacts the mill fee as a result of it’s a income, which suggests we may offset the tax levy. So I believe we simply wait so long as we presumably can to set the mill fee.”
Each $6 million within the finances accounts for 1 % in taxes, Freedman mentioned, so the additional $8 million can be 1.3 %.
“It’s an enormous quantity. It’s actually greater than something we’re going to be discussing over the following month,” Freedman mentioned. “It certain can be good to know if we’re getting it earlier than we set the mill fee.”
Elda Sinani, the town’s Workplace of Coverage & Administration director, mentioned she’s going to see what she will discover out from her counterparts within the state OPM.
Mahoney had one other query concerning the faculty finances. It stems from messaging put out by district directors, he mentioned.
“Each time I learn an article or see an replace from the Board of Training, it’s ‘Now we have to maintain the strain on the Board of Finance and Board of Representatives to not minimize our finances as a result of they are going to be reducing important packages,’” Mahoney mentioned. “I learn that and listen to that and I even dream about it, I’ve heard it so many instances.
“So I’d prefer to see what, particularly, the Board of Training requested since 2021, the primary 12 months of the pandemic, once we held them flat, and what they acquired,” Mahoney mentioned. “With all of the supplemental COVID funding, haven’t they often gotten what they requested for? I need to perceive that earlier than they arrive in.”
He requested Sinani and her workers for a solution by Monday night, when faculty officers are set to current their finances throughout a finance board assembly (accessible right here).
Mahoney had one other query, this time concerning the Board of Training’s capital finances. It was a few “kitty,” as he put it, established by his board and the Board of Representatives final 12 months.
To assist pay for an bold 20-year, $1.5 billion program to renovate or exchange the town’s growing old faculties, the 2 boards acted to create a building fund by growing final 12 months’s property tax 1 %. The fund incorporates $20 million.
“Is there something apart from that within the fund?” Mahoney requested.
Faculty officers “promised” finance board members they might add $18 million to $20 million of the COVID aid cash to the development fund, Mahoney mentioned.
“I do know some went for short-term capital wants, however to me it appeared prefer it all disappeared into some cloud,” Mahoney mentioned.
Tony Romano of the town’s Workplace of Coverage & Administration mentioned he is aware of there may be $20 million within the fund however, as for COVID aid cash, “I don’t know.”
Freedman mentioned it’s a matter for Monday’s assembly with faculty officers.
“Let’s ask them once they come,” Freedman mentioned.
Finance board member Laura Burwick noticed a number of issues concerning the metropolis facet of the finances that raised questions for her.
One was about Scofield Manor, a residential care facility for the aged and disabled run by the Stamford housing authority.
The finances allocation “went from $230,000 one 12 months to $323,000 the next 12 months and now the mayor is asking for $466,000,” Burwick mentioned. “There’s additionally a $60,000 bond. I’d prefer to know what’s happening there.”
Freedman mentioned the top of the housing authority, Vincent Tufo, will seem earlier than the board to elucidate.
“It’s value a separate dialogue,” Freedman mentioned.
Burwick raised one other difficulty, this one taken from nationwide headlines. It involved banking trade turmoil following the collapse of Silicon Valley Financial institution of California and Signature Financial institution of New York.
“What financial institution are we retaining our deposits in? I need to be sure we don’t get caught with giant quantities in a financial institution that will not be as credit-worthy appropriately,” Burwick mentioned.
Sinani mentioned she thinks the town retains its deposits with Financial institution of America however she would double-check.
Freedman raised his concern about an $8.3 million projected enhance in worker medical insurance prices, whilst the town has been switching staff from its self-insured plan to a cheaper State Partnership Medical Plan.
It appears to be like just like the medical insurance fund, set at $4 million, shall be brief, Freedman mentioned.
“We have to verify that’s proper as a result of I don’t know the way we’re off by that a lot,” Freedman informed Sinani.
The town wants a stability in that fund as a result of it should cowl the prices of its self-insured plan straight.
“The most important issues are at all times hidden within the finances e-book,” Freedman mentioned. “This one is unquestionably hidden deep contained in the e-book.”
Diligence is essential to the job of fiscal watchdog. Board of Finance Vice Chair Mary Lou Rinaldi, a longtime member, mentioned, “Whether or not the mill fee goes to alter or not change, the working finances needs to be as lean and environment friendly as potential … I’m going to undergo the finances line by line and see the place we will make some cuts.”