Our city’s Board of Representatives reduced the fiscal 2019 operating budget by $1.4 million during the final budget review process in the spring. As a result, it seems Mayor David Martin has chosen to make this small cut in his $570 million budget in ways that will be as visible and painful as possible to the general public. For example, the mayor chose to eliminate the Fourth of July fireworks because of this, and he has announced that he now intends to require residents to bag all of their leaves if they want the city to pick them up in the fall. Who knows what the next shoe to fall may be?
The $1.4 million cut in the $570 million budget is so minor that it represents only about $2,500 of every million dollars spent by the city. In other words, it’s about one-quarter of 1 percent of the city budget. Business and government leaders deal with such minor matters every day without making a mountain out of a molehill. But not Mayor Martin. He seems determined to punish the Board of Reps and the citizens who elected them for cutting his budget — even in such an insignificant way.
The elimination of the fireworks is already behind us now. However, the leaf pickup — a looming fiasco — is just a couple of months off. How much will this nightmare waiting to happen save the city? The Advocate reported on Aug. 22 the mayor’s staff estimate of $200,000 in savings from this. But at what cost to the citizens, especially the elderly and the sick who may not be able to do the physical work or to pay others to do it?
Here are a couple of practical suggestions for the mayor to save $200,000 from his budget by other means. Let’s start with the payroll of the mayor and his staff. Since Mayor Mike Pavia left office in 2014, the annual payroll in Mayor Martin’s office has more than doubled from $349,000 to $777,000, not including benefits. The main reason for this is that Mayor Martin added a chief of staff when he took office 4-1/2 years ago and has also added several part-time staffers to the payroll since then. The additional salary from the chief of staff alone is currently $165,000 plus substantial benefit costs. If the mayor feels that it is necessary to cut citizen services such as the leaf pickup program, I think it is fair to ask why his staff payroll has more than doubled compared with mayors Pavia and Dannel Malloy. Cutting $200,000 from the payroll for the mayor’s staff would seem to be a much more reasonable cost reduction than requiring residents to bag untold quantities of leaves. This would still leave the mayor with a 65-percent increase in his staff’s annual payroll since he took office.
A second idea for the mayor to find $200,000 in expense savings while maintaining the current leaf pickup program is to take this $200,000 from the $6.5 million contingency fund in the current budget. An even better idea might be to do both this and reduce the payroll of the mayor’s staff. A third idea would be a small across-the-board cut of one-quarter of one percent in all departments’ budgets. These are merely a few initial thoughts about how to deal with the budget problem while leaving citizen services intact. I am quite certain there are additional cost savings opportunities to be found without reducing services if the mayor will set the proper tone as a leader.
Barry Weston is a Stamford resident.