WEST HAVEN >> Democratic mayoral candidate Nancy Rossi on Wednesday announced some of the candidates who will run
with her at the top of her ticket, while blasting Mayor Ed O’Brien for putting forth what she called an “irresponsible” recommended budget for next fiscal year.
Rossi, who plans to challenge O’Brien for the Democratic nomination — and said she is expecting to do so in a primary — announced her choices for city clerk, tax collector and city treasurer in a campaign fundraiser at App’s Ristorante, choosing experienced people who she said will help “fix West Haven’s dismal financial state.”
She chose Michael Last to run for city treasurer, Toni Paine to run for tax collector and Tom McCarthy to run for city clerk.
With the city’s current challenges, “the future success of West Haven begins with fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget,” Rossi, a certified public accountant, said before the fundraiser. The O’Brien administration “is over its head ... the city’s finances are out of control and sinking, with no plan for correction.”
O’Brien responded in an email that “everybody has a right to run and I look forward to talking about the issues. I feel my administration has made unprecedented progress moving West Haven forward in the three short years,” including “economic development that will bring millions in tax revenues and thousands of jobs.
“Our education is seeing rising test scores and full-day kindergarten is now available to all West Haven children,” he said. “We have increased revenues and cut millions in expenses, putting our finances on track for a bright financial future.”
Republican City Councilman David Riccio, R-At Large, also has filed papers for a possible mayoral run.
Last is a former two-term 9th District city councilman who is chief financial officer of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. He formerly led the City Council’s Finance and Public Lands committees. He has worked for the State of Connecticut since 1989, starting in the Office of the State Treasurer.
Paine, a former 12-year elected Board of Education member, is the former manager and treasurer of the West Haven Municipal Federal Credit Union, where she worked for 14 years. On the school board, she served as secretary, treasurer, vice-chairwoman and chairwoman.
McCarthy was a councilman-at-large from 2011-13, , serving as chairman of the Personnel and Civil Service Committee and as the City Council liaison to the Planning and Zoning Commission. He is a former director of construction for several real estate development organizations, and is now a full-time father.
“Michael Last, Toni Paine, and Tom McCarthy all recognize the challenges the city faces and bring the necessary expertise and experience needed to fix our budget problems and get us back on the right track, returning pride to the West Haven community,” said Rossi.
Rossi, in an earlier news release, called O’Brien’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2017-18 “irresponsible.”
O’Brien responded by saying “it is clear she would rather find fabricated falsehoods in every action my administration has taken to move West Haven forward than help and be part of the positive changes that are taking place.”According to Rossi, the $162.77 million recommend budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would represent a 3.3 percent increase over this year’s budget. It would reduce the Board of Education’s requested 1.2 percent increase to the current funding level while increasing the city side of the budget by 7.8 percent, she said.
Rossi said the budget includes new positions and targeted raises, as well as increased funding for debt service to pay for new deficit bonding.
“After the mayor raised taxes four mills last year, I am disappointed that he has chosen not to show a little respect for the taxpayers this year by presenting a more responsible budget,” Rossi said. “This budget increases spending by more than $5 million, and relies on state funding that may not materialize.
“If the city fails to secure the level of state funding that has been promised, we will immediately incur larger and more devastating operating deficits,” Rossi said.
West Haven “cannot keep borrowing (bonding) to meet its operating requirements,” she said. “Tough decisions need to be made, and obviously Mayor O’Brien is not up to the task. Instead of taking commonsense approaches to balance his budget, the mayor is tasking the Board of Education to, once again, trim its budget so that he can increase his.”
O’Brien said that, in fact, “This FY18 Budget is based on months of consultation with the department heads,” the city’s finance director, bond counsel and financial advisers.
“It is unimaginable that anyone seeking a position as important as mayor would pass judgment on a document this involved in just hours of seeing it,” he said. He charged that Rossi’s criticism of his budget included “mistruths that were blasted out on social media hours before the budget was even presented, a real insight as to what her motivations are and her commitment to making decisions based on facts and not for political gain.
“This budget is responsible and includes responsible revenues and expenses,” O’Brien said. “We removed $1.2 million in revenues in FY18 and took a conservative approach to new state aid but it must be noted that I have been up to Hartford many times speaking to legislators about our aid and I used those conversations in making my decision as to what revenue number to use.”
To prepare the education budget, “I have had many conversations with the superintendent and his finance director and although he would like more money for education, he understands the importance and the need of a lean budget year and does not feel the education of our students will be affected one bit by a flat-funded budget in FY18.”
The budget contains “no raises, no targeted raises for my friends and one, needed, new position,” O’Brien said. It “is balanced, and only after an unforeseen increased cost related to special education did the current budget see challenges. The city side was balanced and if not for our unexpected BOE cost, they would have seen a balanced budget.”
Taxpayers “should know that the budget I presented last week has no mill rate increase,” he said. “We balanced revenues and expenses. I will seek to eliminate the deficit and there is a cost to doing that but the benefits far outweigh the impact it has on the budget.”