City underfunded by the state by millions

BRIDGEPORT — In recent days, city officials have received both good and bad budget news as Connecticut’s legislative session winds down and state lawmakers and the city council prepare this week to finalize their respective budgets for 2022. -2023.

On the one hand, the months-long effort to secure reimbursement for the beleaguered, $129 million Bassick High School appears to have come to a successful conclusion, with the wording of the state budget proposal covering nearly 79% of the price. total.

But City Hall also learned that Mayor Joe Ganim counted $1.8 million in state handouts to balance the project, the $605.1 million municipal tax plan he passed on to council early April is not going to materialize and the state is about to allocate millions to the city. unless it supplies New Haven and Hartford.

“It’s important,” Councilman Scott Burns, chairman of the council’s budget committee, said Monday.

After Bassick failed to make it onto Connecticut’s school building priority list in December, local lawmakers, including state officials. Antonio Felipe and Steven Staffstrom succeeded in January to have Bassick reinstated. This led to the 79% refund mentioned in the state budget that members of the General Assembly hope to pass before that body adjourns at midnight on Wednesday.

“We certainly appreciate the legislative leadership and the governor,” Staffstrom said Monday. “This is a long overdue project.”

Constance Vickers, Ganim’s legislative liaison, said: “A big ‘thank you’ to our (legislative) delegation. Bassick was not an easy project.

In 2019, Governor Ned Lamont’s administration and the General Assembly agreed to spend $90.8 million on a new Bassick, which at the time was to be built in the same West End neighborhood as the century-old school. existing, but for 115 million dollars. .

Due to various changes and delays – including the Ganim administration’s abrupt decision in 2020 to buy land at the University of Bridgeport in the South End for $6 million and erect a new Bassick on it – the price rose to $129 million.

And these substantial changes to the scope and cost of the plan, along with the fact that little progress has been made on Bassick as the two-year deadline for work to start approaches, led the Department of Administrative Services in the spring last to recommend Bridgeport reapply for state money. and to be on the school construction priority list.

But when that list was released in December, Bassick wasn’t on it, and local officials rushed to fix the problem.

Under the wording of the state budget, Bridgeport must now hold firm to the $129 million cost. The words “not to exceed” have been specifically included.

While grateful to the state for supporting the new school, Ganim and the board still need more help from the state to balance the proposed budget for 2022-23.

This document is based on millions of dollars in one-time and expected revenues, including $10 million from Bridgeport’s share of last year’s federal coronavirus relief program; $4 million from the pending sale of the city-owned Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford to the Connecticut Airport Authority; and $2.1 million in additional state aid on top of the planned $37 million.

Not only is there a big question mark over that $2.1 million, but late last week Ken Flatto and Nestor Nkwo, the city’s finance and budget directors, respectively, alerted council. that a separate $1.8 million the mayor had counted on failed.

Specifically, the money was to help reimburse Bridgeport for local tax breaks given to environmentally responsible manufacturers. But that piece of state legislation was not passed this session.

According to a Flatto analysis, while Bridgeport, Connecticut’s largest municipality, expects to receive $37 million based on existing state aid formulas, Hartford will receive $85 million and New Haven $114 million. of dollars.

“Look how stark the contrast and how underfunded Bridgeport is compared to our sister cities,” Flatto told the budget committee last Thursday. “It’s really a shame.”

“It’s nonsense,” Burns said Monday.

He said the council’s budget committee was aiming to wrap up its work on Wednesday, but added: “That can be optimistic.”

Burns noted that the new $1.8 million hole will make that work more complicated, including efforts to find additional dollars for schools.

Ganim provided an additional $2 million to the school board, which had requested over $8 million more. Superintendent of Schools Michael Testani told the budget committee last month he could work with an additional $5 million.

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