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Mold, and buildings allowed to grow old, drive mayor’s budget plan

March 22, 2019

STAMFORD — All the officials citizens elected to sit on city boards are pouring over Mayor David Martin’s $603 million 2019-20 spending plan, which may come with a sizable 4.4 percent tax increase.

City department heads are going before the boards to explain their revenue and spending projections, as elected officials hunt for things to cut from the mayor’s proposal.

Before they do, take a look at what Martin wants taxpayers to fund for the coming fiscal year.

The operating budget has two big drivers, Martin wrote in the introduction to his proposal.

One he calls “unfunded liabilities” — all the expected pension payments and health-care costs the city is obligated to cover for retired employees.

The other, “deferred maintenance,” is the mayor’s description of the state of municipal buildings, particularly schools, where long-ignored repairs led to a mold invasion that started last summer.

The tax increase would be about half what it is if not for those things, Martin said.

Of the $603 million he expects to spend in the fiscal year that begins July 1, nearly a third, $198 million, will be used to operate the city. Running the schools will cost significantly more — $286 million. The rest will cover debt service and all those employee retirement benefits.

This year, Martin said, cash-strapped Connecticut wants cities to contribute to the state-funded Teacher Retirement System, which will cost Stamford an unexpected $1.4 million.

But the mold problem is an even less-anticipated, and much more expensive, factor in the upcoming capital and operating budgets.

Martin said he expects to issue $60 million in bonds to pay for mold cleanup and repairs of leaky foundations, roofs, walls, windows and other structures, and to replace equipment. The increased bonding will cost another $2 million in debt service in 2019-20, Martin said.

Mold has so permeated Westover Magnet Elementary School that it is temporarily closed, and the lease of a renovated Elmcroft Road office building to house students and faculty until June 2020 will cost $4.3 million in the next fiscal year.

It means other things will suffer.

Bringing back positions

In his operating budget Martin proposed spending $3.5 million on road maintenance, almost a 30 percent reduction from this year’s expenditure. And the amount proposed for park maintenance is $2.5 million, or 33 percent less than this year.

Still, in the introduction to his budget proposal, Martin wrote that the city, after years of management cuts, needs to restore 19 positions because the “overall operating ability” in a number of departments “is inhibited so long as these positions are not in place.”

The positions “represent a very small portion of the budget and will help save costs in future years,” Martin wrote. They include an assistant director of Human Resources, an assistant director for the 911 call center, a parks superintendent, a director of Citizen’s Services, a traffic analyst, an urban design planner, and a housing code enforcement officer.

Employee salaries and benefits, as usual, make up about 80 percent of the operating budget. Raises for union members in 2019-20 are determined by their contracts. Members of Martin’s cabinet are slated for 2.9 percent salary increases, and the budget calls for the mayor’s salary to rise from $175,661 to $182,066 — a 3.6 percent hike.

More money for mold

Then there’s the $52.9 million capital budget. It requests $12 million for mold-related work, most of it — $10.5 million — for school buildings.

That list includes $2.5 million for replacement of school roofs, $3 million for reconstruction, and another $3 million to address indoor-air quality.

Beyond mold, the capital budget includes $7.7 million to improve safety and security in school buildings, $1.6 million to replace school boilers and burners, and $650,000 to fix modular classrooms district wide.

The capital budget shows that mold also has crept into city buildings, since $1.5 million is budgeted to remediate that. The city list includes $80,000 for Woodside Fire Station No. 5; $250,000 for Ferguson Library; and $190,000 for the Scofield Manor residential-care facility in North Stamford.

As with the operating budget, mold has overtaken items in the capital budget.

It includes nothing, for instance, for a new animal shelter, though it notes that planning officials remain “committed to the search for a more modern facility” than the 60-year-old one on Magee Avenue.

Where the money comes from

On the revenue side, nearly all of the $603 million needed to run the city — $562 million — is expected to come from property taxes in 2019-20.

Other notable revenue sources include $6 million from building-permit fees, most of it paid by developers; $4.5 million in conveyance taxes paid when properties change hands; and $1.7 million in dumping fees.

Ice rentals at the Terry Conners Rink in Cove Island Park are expected to bring in $655,000; the city is on track to collect $625,600 from its share of the Mashantucket Pequot Fund, fueled by the casinos in eastern Connecticut; and residents are expected to shell out $324,700 this summer to play in adult recreation leagues.

On the every-little-bit-helps list is $120,000 the city aims to collect from the state’s Off-Track Betting Revenue Sharing Fund, courtesy of Bobby V’s Restaurant & Sports Bar on Atlantic Street; and a variety of permit fees — $28,000 expected to be collected from people who want to have picnics in public parks, $4,000 for bingo games, and $150 for clamming in Long Island Sound.

Two bits of good news: Martin says there will be a fireworks show this Fourth of July, and residents will not have to bag their own leaves in the fall. The city will pick them up curbside, at a cost of $316,000.

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.

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