Tim Stewart, Mayor of New Britain, is threatening to lay off municipal employees: is this too little, too late?

Tim Stewart Mayor of New Britain ConnecticutI personally like Tim Stewart, the Republican Mayor of New Britain, Connecticut.  He is a gentleman, an honest and good citizen, and perhaps one of the best mayors the City of New Britain had in recent years.

He has attempted to hold down the tax rate on property owners in New Britain, even though governmental unions have been burdening the City’s residents with excessive budgets in the face of very difficult economic times for the homeowners, who are largely, if not entirely, from the lower and lower-middle classes of our country.  The median family income of New Britain was merely $33,000.

Tim Stewart is now threatening to lay off a number of municipal employees if the municipal employees’ unions do not agree to cuts to their benefit programs, including their health insurance.  I applaud the Mayor on taking this much needed and long overdue stance.  Tim Stewart has no other choice:  there are no rich in New Britain from whom to raise additional revenues, unlike Governor Scott Walker’s alternatives in Wisconsin recently.  The property owners of New Britain cannot afford to pay $5,000 or $6,000, or more, in property taxes every year with an average family annual income of $33,000. 

But the question is, why wasn’t Tim Stewart this aggressive in cutting the budget years ago?  In 2004 when I had served on the City of New Britain’s Board of Finance and Taxation, I drafted and proposed a budget outlining a reduction of 10% in the City’s annual budget, only to have the mayor and the Board of Finance and Taxation entirely ignore my budget proposal Louis Salvio, former head of New Britain's Board of Finance and Taxationand instead propose a budget with a small increase.  I was also informed by Louis Salvio, the Chairman of the City of New Britain’s Board of Finance and Taxation, who often characterized his style of leadership as that of Genghis Khan (and, I might add, that he did not exaggerate), that our role as Commissioners on the Board was essentially merely that of writing position papers to be considered by the Mayor.  (My reply to Lou at that time was that the budget was our primary position paper.)  In other words, the City of New Britain’s Board of Finance and Taxation had little, if any, real input into the budgetary process of the City, and that the ultimate formulation of the budget was left between the Mayor’s Office and the Municipal Unions to be decided upon ultimately by New Britain’s Town Council.  Upon learning of such, I lost all interest in the Commission and subsequently stopped attending its meetings.

Perhaps if Tim Stewart had not been a municipal employee, a fireman, with attractive, guaranteed employee benefits, maybe he would have been more attentive to the opinions of his Commissioners and may have paid more heed to their budget proposals, including the large scale layoffs of municipal employees.

Back then in 2004, the Board of Education accounted for at least $120 million of the City’s $190 million annual budget.  Doris Kurtz, the Superintendent of Schools, I recall, was earning an annual salary of nearly $155,000; and there were a bunch of Assistant Superintendents earning as much as $135,000 annually, with a number of school principals yielding as much as $125,000 annually, and also assistant principals, $115,000.  Back then the median salaries of New Britain teachers was $80,000, with many receiving healthcare benefits costing the City of New Britain $20,000 annually.  Not bad for 186 required work days of 6.75 hours, 180 days of accumulated sick time, 14 holidays, and weeks of vacation time, is it?

Then there was the Fire Department, requiring a funding of 159 full-time firemen, even though there were only 138 firemen employed.  Because of such additional funding, it was not unusual to see firemen’s W-2 forms reporting gross wages of $80,000 per year.  Not bad for working three (3) twenty-four hour days out of ten (10) consecutive days.  Many had second jobs or side businesses, earning very attractive livings.  Many did not even live in New Britain, escaping its high property taxes.  Now that’s what I call supporting one’s community, isn’t it?

And recall that these firemen could retire at 70% of the highest three years of their last five years’ salaries:  consequently, by allocating the excess budgetary funding in the form of additional overtime to these senior firemen who were approaching retirement, they could collect $56,000 per year as a pension.  Such manipulation was raping the property owners in New Britain.

A similar scenario was playing out in the City’s Police Department as well, with overfunding for the number of actual positions, allowing the opportunity for allocating additional overtime to senior officers, boosting their retirement pay.  Of course, there was a big difference between the Police and Fire Departments of New Britain:  the police officers could retire after 20 years of service while the firemen had to wait 25 years…LOL!  Recall, again, that Tim Stewart was a fireman; I suspect that he is eligible to such benefits as well.

So I thank, Tim Stewart, for finally making the good fight; however, I do chastise him for not having done it sooner.  But better late than never, right?

Oh, lest I forget, I hear that Lucien Pawlak is considering running for Mayor of New Britain, again.  Now, I was a Democrat until I witnessed what happened to the City of New Britain’s property taxes under the stewardship of Lucien Pawlak.  When I once questioned Lucien about the undue increase in property taxes under his reign, he simply replied, “well, your property values have increased while I have been Mayor, so that’s a good thing!”  Wow, what an answer.  I was speechless.

Incidentally, these figures, amounts, and events are recalled from memory from a number of years ago.  If I had erred in my recollection, I offer my sincerest apologies to all and invite any party to offer evidence to the contrary.

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About Connecticut Politics

William Brighenti is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, who operates a public accounting firm, Accountants CPA Hartford, Connecticut, LLC. Bill began his career in public accounting over thirty years ago. He provides a variety of accounting, tax, and QuickBooks consulting services to individuals and business across a wide spectrum of industries. Bill writes an accounting, tax, and QuickBooks blog under the penname, "The Barefoot Accountant". William Brighenti created the blog, Connecticut Politics, because of the need for a voice to cry out loud--Vox Clamantis--explaining the reasons for the terrible state of the economy in the United States as well as urging change and reform before the United States becomes a third world country.
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