Proposal Made to Slow Down and Decentralize Decisions on City Borrowing

After what many are calling Republican Mayor Erin Stewart’s heavy-handed attempts to pressure City Council Democrats into a quick approval of her plan to borrow $115 million to push city debt into the future, a proposal has been introduced to slow down and decentralize decisions on city borrowing.

Democratic Ald. Aram Ayalon (D-3) has introduced a proposed change in the city ordinances (local laws) in a resolution on the agenda of the January 24, 2018 Council meeting. The proposal would make changes in the way that decisions to authorize borrowing by the city are considered by the Council’s bonding committee.

Ald. Aram Ayalon (D-3). Frank Gerratana photo.

The bonding committee is a subcommittee of the Council’s administration, finance and law committee. Under city ordinances, all decisions of the Council to authorize city borrowing must start in the bonding committee.

One part of Ayalon’s proposal is to require that the any recommendation from the bonding committee that the Council authorize city borrowing must be at least twenty one days prior to the Council actually voting on the borrowing proposal.

“I believe the council should take bonding and refinancing seriously,” said Ayalon, “and there needs to be sufficient time to consider the implications and seek answers and diverse opinions.”

Another part of the proposal would change how bonding committee meetings are called. The current city ordinance allows either the mayor or the chair of the Council’s administration, finance and law committee to call a bonding committee meeting.

Under Ayalon’s proposal, “it is the sole responsibility of the chair of finance to call for meetings, not the mayor.”

Stewart has rebuffed Democratic Council members’ attempts at further discussion of her borrowing and refinance plan. When Democrats asked for the January 17th Council meeting Stewart had called to be cancelled to allow more time to consider her proposal, Stewart, instead called the meeting to order without Democrats. Though the meeting could not officially convene, Stewart allowed Republicans to speak. Fuming at Democrats’ absence, Stewart called it, “dereliction of your duty.”

But the Council’s President Pro-Tempore, Democratic Ald. Eva Magnuszewski (D-AL) said, “We made it clear we were not ready and find it disingenuous that the Mayor would try to proceed without us. Most importantly, the public did not have an opportunity to weigh in on this.”

“We asked for the meeting to be cancelled,” said Magnuszewski. “Each of the 5 bonding restructuring plans adds at least $35 million dollars to the $380,134,000 we are being asked to refinance.”

“We did not have a consensus after receiving answers to our questions on Tuesday night,” Magnuszewski added.

And, Magnuszewski asked, “Is it fair to borrow this much from future generations?”

Stewart called the January 17th special Council meeting one week after the January 10th special meeting, at which Stewart’s plan was first considered. At that meeting, the Council had referred the borrowing and refinance plan back to the bonding committee. The Council’s Majority Leader, Ald. Carlo Carlozzi (D-5), expressed the desire of Council members to explore other options than the one presented to them. “We are going to be looking at additional options. Instead of just this one plan, we are going to see what other plans are available.” Both Democrats and Republicans had voted together to return the measure to committee, and Stewart had spoken favorably about the further consideration of options.

But Stewart and other Republicans were then criticized for breaking that short-lived bipartisanship by openly ridiculing a question Ald. Emmanuel Sanchez (D-AL) had asked about the city’s finances, as the part of the Council’s January 10th consideration of Stewart’s debt plan.

Stewart also effectively limiting further consideration of her plan to one week has also been viewed in the context of pressure Stewart has brought to bear on Democrats to approve her proposal. In a Twitter comment before the January 10th meeting, she said, “Big debt fixing plans on #New Britain city council agenda Wednesday night will newly elected dems save the city? Or will they let us fail.”

Under Stewart’s debt plan, city taxpayers would be making smaller payments on existing city debt in the current year and next eight years, with the largest saving being in the three years following the current year. After the year 2026, however, taxpayer payments on existing city debt would increase, becoming dramatically higher over the course of twenty-one years. The plan would add an additional ten years to the taxpayer’s payments on existing city debt, and, according to City Council members, would add over $69 million to city debt service and increase the city’s total debt obligation from $380 million to $449 million.