July 4th Fireworks Cancelled -- Statement from Mayor Martin re: General Cut by Board of Representatives and Service Reductions in Parks & Recreation

STAMFORD, CT – Mayor David Martin released the following statement on the first round of budget cuts that were required to be made after the Board of Representatives imposed a $1.4 million unidentified general cut to the City’s budget:

“As Mayor, I strongly disagree with the general cut made by the Board of Representatives to the City’s budget. It will have a disproportionate impact on services provided to residents, without meaningful tax relief. Requiring the Mayor to make significant cuts, which, again, the Administration does not agree with, will result in the cancellation of services and programs. We have been making significant strides to improve services every year, and these cuts put many of these improvements at risk.

To be fair, I recognize that many members of the Board voted against this $1.4 million general cut. Identifying ways to reduce operational costs without reducing services and programs is a very difficult process – given how much of our costs are structural, an almost impossible task!  After more than 45 hours in Fiscal Committee and full Board meetings, members of the Board of Reps were unable to identify and agree on specific areas to cut. Instead, they shifted the responsibility for this excessive cut back to the Mayor’s office.

As most of the Board members know, the vast majority of the City side of the budget is comprised of payments that cannot, or should not, be reduced.  This includes bonded debt service payments, unfunded pension payments, mandated obligations imposed by the state, and benefit costs required by union contracts, etc. Therefore the mandated $1.4 million cut must come from the smaller portion of the budget that primarily represents current services to our residents.

Today we are announcing initial service reductions of ~$205,000 to Parks & Recreation. We have also identified ~$152,000 in budget reductions that fortunately can be made without significant service implications. The Board of Representative’s budget action still calls for more than $1.0 million in additional required service reductions.  In the next few weeks, more service cuts will follow in Public Safety, Operations, Finance & Administration, and general government including the Mayor’s Office, Town Clerk, and the elected Boards.

Service Reductions in the Parks & Recreation Area

All of these service cuts in Parks and Recreation, with the exception of the direct expenses for the fireworks operator, are accomplished through reduction of hours worked by City employees. These service hour cuts will not materially reduce the very significant benefit costs for City employees and have virtually no impact on the structural costs of the City.

  • Cancellation of the annual July 4th fireworks event at Cummings Beach. Savings are from both the direct cost of fireworks as well as additional overtime for operations and police personnel. The total incremental cost savings (including elimination of the smaller Harborfest fireworks in August) is calculated at ~$95,000. 

Note that the total cost of the fireworks celebrations, including police, is far greater than the incremental $95,000 – probably closer to $150,000 in total for both July 4th and Harborfest - but the Boards have already reduced the police by $250,000, which will partially be absorbed by elimination of fireworks. We cannot validly count these police savings twice, both as a specific cut and as part of the general budget cut.

  • Cleaning park beaches during regular operating hours rather than early in the morning in order to reduce overtime. Beaches will be cleaned during regular business hours, which reduces available hours for mowing, landscaping and general park cleanup. Additionally, summer beach maintenance will stop on October 1st instead of the usual October 15th. This will save ~$60,000.
  • Discontinue lining ballfields on weekends. Teams will need to line their own fields if the lines fade during the weekend. This is expected to save the City ~$30,000.
  • Eliminating lifeguards at Cove’s Quigley Beach. For safe swimming, residents will need to use Stamford’s other guarded beaches. This will save the City ~$19,000.

These service changes may save more, or less, than originally estimated. Savings will be monitored to determine if additional adjustments are needed. These service changes are to take effect immediately. 

Despite these service reductions, the majority of services in Parks & Recreation will continue. The plan is for the parks, beaches, and ballfields to continue to remain open as they have in the past. All recreation programs, the costs of which are largely offset by fee revenues, will continue. And the Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades, and other annual parades such as St. Patrick’s Day, Columbus Day, and the Downtown Special Services District Thanksgiving Parade will continue.

No outside organizations which the city supports directly or indirectly and that provide recreation-like services (summer concerts, educational camps, etc.) to citizens are impacted by these cuts.

Additional specific service reductions in Parks & Recreation were also considered and will only be implemented if absolutely necessary.  These include reducing the days the Tram at Cove Island runs (~$20,000), eliminating early morning hockey practices for high school teams (~$6,000), or eliminating garbage pickup in the parks and downtown on Sundays ($63,000).

Budget adjustments that will be made which have limited impact on services include:

  • Minor department account reductions and adjustments saving the City ~$33,000. These are mostly smaller supplies account lines that we believe we can bring in under budget. Although there are probably other account lines that are likely to provide small budget savings, they cannot be reliably identified at this time and will likely be offset by other account lines that may need additional funding before the year is over.
  • Reduced cost in utilities expense that was not known until after the budget was submitted saving ~$31,000.
  • Associated social security for positions cut by the Boards, saving the city ~$88,000.  We disagree with some of the positions removed from the budget, but if these important positions are not funded, then additional savings in social security, etc. can be achieved.

Our original proposed budget to the Boards was lean and balanced and would have enabled services to remain unchanged or improved. Making these reductions are difficult and painful. To presume, as some still do, that there is always room for cuts is inexcusably simplistic for people tasked with the responsibility for guiding our City. It is apparent that the Board of Representatives, even after many hours studying the budget, could only say that they wanted to spend less, which we all desire, but they had no meaningful analysis to support their desire and could not identify and agree to any specific cuts in services to achieve savings.

This Administration also wants to spend less and keep taxes as low as responsibly possible.  But we will not follow the common and dangerous path other Mayors and Boards have taken in the past, and others in the state continue to take, by deferring maintenance, using bond premiums to cover operating expenses, reducing funding levels for pension obligations, or utilizing other budget gimmicks to pretend to achieve short-term savings while increasing the City’s future costs and liabilities. I will not jeopardize the City’s financial integrity to make up for this unidentified general cut.”