|Article Last Updated: 4/02/2005 08:14 AM|
|Fabrizi begs for help; $30m deficit feared|
|KEN DIXON firstname.lastname@example.org|
|HARTFORD — Bridgeport Mayor John M. Fabrizi came to the Capitol Friday, hat in hand, looking for state relief for a huge budget headache.|
Sources said a yawning budget gap of up to $30 million could lead Bridgeport to lay off 100 to 200 workers and sell Veterans Memorial Park.
After meeting with Gov. M. Jodi Rell's budget staff and Speaker of the House James A. Amann, Fabrizi was hopeful he might get an extra few million dollars.
Amann, D-Milford, said Fabrizi asked for about $8 million, "if feasible," to help balance Bridgeport's books.
Fabrizi declined to say what kind of shortfall he faces in the last few days before proposing his new budget next week.
"The thing's fluid," Fabrizi said Friday afternoon. "It's not that we have a budget in deficit, it's that we're looking for other areas of raising revenue so we can meet the needs of the people of the city of Bridgeport. And right now, things are extremely challenging and our revenue streams are not what they are next budget year as how they stand today."
Capitol sources close to the meetings told the Connecticut Post that Bridgeport is facing a deficit as high as $30 million in an operating budget of about $450 million. The Board of Education spending request is nearly $170 million.
The sources said Fabrizi's plans to fill the gap could include laying off as many as 200 city employees and forcing higher health-insurance co-payments.
In a couple of interviews during his whirlwind day, Fabrizi said he's contemplating a variety of moves, including layoffs and "probably" holding off on new firefighter and police training classes, while attempting to get city employees enrolled in state health-care programs.
Emerging with other city officials from Amann's office in the Legislative Office Building after a morning meeting, Fabrizi said, "It went well" and praised Amann for a "very positive attitude."
Fabrizi then appeared before a legislative committee, asking for a bigger piece of the money generated by slot-machine revenue at the two Indian casinos.
"Are we looking at a gap between what the expenses are and what the revenue streams are?" Fabrizi said. "Yes we are. Secondly, all alternatives are on the table, but I can't give you a [layoff] number because we don't have a final budget number yet."
Fabrizi said that back in 1993 the city received $10 million from the $113 million pool of slot-machine money, but now there's $440 million in the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund and the city has received the lowest amount ever.
Fabrizi said an expected $12 million increase in health insurance costs is also straining his budget plan.
The state relief could include the state takeover of the Veterans Memorial Park, the 90-acre woodland in the North End, between Park and Madison Avenues.
That sale, for a few million dollars through the state's Open Space acquisition program, would be reminiscent of the city's sale of the Beardsley Zoo, under former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker, when Bridgeport was on the brink of bankruptcy in the early 1990s.
On Friday, the Environment Committee approved a bill proposed by Rep. John F. Hennessy, D-Bridgeport, that would protect Veterans Park from development. It next moves to the Government Administration & Elections Committee, whose co-chairman, Rep. Christopher L. Caruso, D-Bridgeport, is a co-sponsor of Hennessy's bill.
"The exploration of making Veterans Park a state park, the city of Bridgeport would look at any proposal seriously," Fabrizi said. "We're flipping over every single rock that we can," he said. "We're raising our fees in certain areas."
Fabrizi said he will announce initiatives next week when he rolls out the proposed spending package.
"If you have less revenue than you currently have and your budget increases by $15 to $20 million, you're behind the eight ball," Fabrizi said. "Nobody wants to lay off anybody, including a policeman, a fireman, a nurse or a worker who makes $21,000."
Amann, a Bridgeport native, said he's committed to helping the state's largest city.
"Bridgeport is a priority for me and we're going to do what we can," Amann said, stressing that he did not promise a particular sum, since Fabrizi has to win additional support from majority Senate Democrats and the governor as well.
"He needs to do his job and the Bridgeport delegation has to do their jobs, too," Amann said.
Ken Dixon, who covers the Capitol, can be reached at (860) 549-4670.