NB Politicus

New Britain’s Bond Rating Drops From Stable To Negative: Huge Spike In Debt Through 2021 Cited By Moody’s

Posted in city government, City Hall, municipal budget, New Britain, Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on November 4, 2017

By John McNamara

Republican incumbent Mayor Erin Stewart, in her re-election campaign this year and throughout her second term, has touted improving municipal bond ratings for New Britain’s fiscal solvency, claiming credit for budget surpluses of $15 million and pushing spending up at City Hall with no need for an election year tax increase.

Fiscal stability is the cornerstone of her platform and a main talking point in her aspirations to leave the mayor’s job for statewide office. Her campaign’s website points to New Britain “gracing the cover of the Bond Buyer, a trade publication covering the municipal bond market, “not once but twice. The city under her management is a shining example for how to make a financial turnaround work during a difficult economy.”

The November 2nd edition of Bond Buyerhowever, paints a different picture for the city’s finances in the  latest analysis, portending a difficult road ahead for the city’s budget over the next four years.  Moody’s Investor Services, which along with Standard & Poor’s, assesses the borrowing ability and fiscal health of cities in the municipal bond market, has downgraded general obligation borrowing to Baa2 from Baa1. “Moody’s cited New Britain’s reliance on nonrecurring revenues to stabilize its financial position in recent years. The rating agency also revised its outlook on the 73,000-population city to negative from stable,” Bond Buyer’s Paul Burton reported. “The rating also incorporates the city’s elevated debt profile with rapidly escalating debt service and its modest pension liability,’ the rating agency said Tuesday.”

In contrast to Moody’s downgrade four months into the 2018 fiscal year, Standard & Poor’s has previously affirmed  a more favorable A-plus rating for New Britain after upgrading the city four notches through two upgrades.   Moody’s last assessment came in 2014.

According to the Bond Buyer story:

Moody’s said the negative outlook reflects the short-term challenge New Britain will face to match recurring revenues with recurring expenditures while managing its debt service pegged to spike through fiscal 2021. New Britain, said Moody’s, could earn an upgrade through a sustained trend of structurally balanced operations without one-shots, a material reduction in debt burden, growth in its tax base or an improved resident wealth and income profile.  By contrast, continuing reliance on nonrecurring revenues, erosion of its financial position, taking on more debt or deterioration of New Britain’s tax base or wealth profile could lead to a downgrade.

The Moody’s downgrade may be related to action taken by the Common Council prior to the end of the 2017 fiscal year at the behest of the Stewart administration when debt payments were deferred in the last fiscal year pushing the debt into this year and succeeding years when interest rates on the city’s borrowing will be accelerating.

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GOP Alderman Hits School Board On Salaries But Rubber Stamps Pay Hikes, More Spending At City Hall

Posted in city government, New Britain Republicans, public education, Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on August 5, 2017

 

By John McNamara

The sometimes fragile relations between City Hall  and the Board of Education took a backward step this week over complaints from Ward 2 Republican Alderman Kristian Rosado appearing in the New Britain City Journal.

Rosado, in a front-page story in the City Journal , derided a unanimous BOE move on salary increases for three administrators,  pitting Rosado against BOE President and fellow Republican Nick Mercier.

unnamedRosado was joined by two BOE members, Sharon Beloin-Saavedra and Miriam Geraci, who either half-heartedly voted for the increases or didn’t stick around long enough to vote on the matter at a July 24th meeting.  Geraci, absent for the vote, objected because of uncertainty over the amount of Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) funds the city will receive in the unresolved state budget.  In a City Journal editorial, Editor Robin Vinci, often a mouthpiece for the Stewart administration on many issues, sided with Rosado.

The BOE, however,  unanimously approved three salary increases — a revenue neutral move, according to Mercier, because of a $49,000 cut in Assistant Superintendent Paul Salina’s compensation.  Receiving salary hikes were Chief Financial Officer Kevin Kane, Talent Officer Dr. Shuana Tucker and Assistant Talent Officer, Dr. Nicole Sanders, the principal of the North End School, who was promoted to the position.

 

City Journal Editor Robin Vinci, apparently confusing Dr. Sanders with someone else, falsely reported that Sanders is a member of the BOE.  By law, school employees cannot serve on the elected board.

Mercier, quoted in the City Journal, said “the chief financial officer is taking over as head of three departments, that warranted the salary increase. In terms of the talent office it was partially due to an increase in duties and responsibilities”  and making the salaries “competitive.” Mercier said the move is saving $20,000 in central office spending this year and will reduce administrative costs by $90,000 next year.

But Rosado lambasted the salary levels  as “outrageous and insulting considering that the average resident of New Britain makes under $40,000 a year,” saying more money should be going to classroom support.

By contrast, Rosado, in his capacity as a member of the Common Council, has been a reliable rubber stamp for Mayor’s office salary hikes and major budget increases on the municipal side of the ledger.  He supported Mayor Stewart’s budget that denied a very small increase for city schools.

No one questions Alderman Rosado nor the City Journal for casting a critical eye on how tax dollars are spent. But their critical eyes appear to be only wide open at the Board of Education. They are closed shut when it comes to salary hikes, increasing debt interest and all manner of discretionary spending by the Stewart administration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labor Day 2015: When “The Saturday Night Club” Remembered The Rise of New Britain Unions

Posted in labor, Local History by nbpoliticus on September 7, 2015

 By John McNamara

The New Britain Saturday Night Club, founded in the 19th century,  is an organization of professionals, industrialists, educators and the civic-minded whose members regularly gathered for some home-grown culture and education. None other than the “Learned Blacksmith” Elihu Burritt was a member starting in 1875 .  The longstanding group is kind of a Rotary Club gathering regularly  for  social and intellectual discourse.  The Club is still in business and members meet half a dozen times a year to continue the tradition. The Community Foundation of Greater New Britain still maintains a New Britain Saturday Night Club Fund “to support a legacy for culture, education and economic development.”  

Bill Weber, a prominent attorney and civic leader in the city for more than 50 years, and member of The Saturday Night Club,  shared with NB Politicus  a labor history paper presented  at the Club in 200.   A brief history of unions, Weber’s observations trace the city’s labor movement back to the 19th century and on to the build up and decline of those unions and the people who made it happen.

Labor Day 2015 is not a time to be nostalgic about the struggles of the last century to organize factory floors that turned New Britain into a “union town” with its many  thousands of factory jobs.

On this Labor Day the union movement is gearing up with 21st century strategies to fight right-wing attacks, organize white- and blue-collar workplaces with unionization in the private sector at single-digits. Income inequality,  thanks to new union organizing,  the Presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders and the leadership of Elizabeth Warren, may be moving the political debate in the direction it needs to go.

It’s not nostalgia, however, to make labor history a prominent part of what a new generation should know about New Britain’s past and what grandparents and great grandparents did and fought for to make decent livings and attain income security.

This year a new Connecticut law was enacted to make  the labor movement a part of what school districts should consider in setting social studies and history curriculums.  “Without the contribution of organized labor and the sacrifice and courage of union activists, the average worker, even the average non-union worker, would have many fewer rights and benefits in employment,” Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven) said last May when the bill passed. “We owe it to the children of Connecticut to teach them about these extraordinary contributions so that they might have an understanding of this critical component in American history.”  It’s the kind of curriculum that’s needed in the city for school kids to appreciate where they live.

Attorney Bill Weber’s Saturday Night discourse, “The Excitement of The Times” back in 1991 barely scratches the surface of this epic time in labor history. But Weber knowledgeably recounts who some of the key players were — a “greatest generation” of New Britain union organizers mainly from the militant and trailblazing United Electrical & Radio Machine Workers (UE) who shop by shop fought resisting employers and turned the city into a “union town.”

Detail from Taylor Map.

Detail from Taylor Map.

The build up of New Britain’s labor movement and the start of industrial unions go back 83 years to FDR’s New Deal.  The UE, the United Auto Workers (UAW) of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the International Association of Machinists (IAM)  of the old guard American Federation of Labor would at their post World War II peak  represent many  thousands of workers in the shops of Landers, Frary & Clark, Stanley Works, American Hardware’s Russell & Erwin, Corbin Screw, P & F Corbin and Corbin Lock divisions and Fafnir Bearing.

Attorney  Weber went further  back to the 19th century when the Saturday Night Club was just getting started to trace  the city labor movement’s beginnings.

Two dueling preachers, engaging in some class warfare from the pulpits, may have fueled the  struggle for good wages and working conditions in the 19th century. Weber recalled a chat with the Rev. Jim Simpson, a  former pastor of First Church, who speculated  “the beginnings of labor unrest and organization in New Britain hark back to the split of the South Church from the First Church. He suggested that the sermons of the Reverend Smalley were often directed at the industrialists of that time for their treatment of their workers and the conditions in their factories. Smalley’s efforts on behalf of the workers together with his opposition to slavery precipitated the industrialists leaving the First Church to form their own Church, today’s South Church.”  A case of class warfare in the pews.

Attorney Weber’s brief history noted the formation of The Molders Union in 1860 and following the Civil War the “10 Hour League” as tradesmen won a shorter work day at Russell & Erwin.  “As the manufacturers moved from skilled labor to mass production with semi-skilled and unskilled labor, the labor movement gradually died out and the Molders Union disbanded.” Not until 1915 did “low wages” and “long hours” spur  the IAM into action and the drive for unions was on again only to be slowed by “red raids” by state police arresting organizers from the “Communist Labor Party” in a first wave of redbaiting that would ultimately damage and divide organized labor.

“Everything changed with the Depression,” observed Weber of the watershed year 1932. ” Healthy young men who wanted to work could find no work. One person explained that he was at the top of his class at New Britain High School and believed himself to be far brighter than those of his classmates whose families could afford to send their children to college. But for him there was neither college nor a job. With the election of Franklin Roosevelt and with the advent of the New Deal, the passage in 1933 of the National Industrial Recovery Act (or NIRA) and the passage in 1935 of the Wagner Act, the strength of law backed a worker’s efforts to organize a labor union. “Many of the individuals that I interviewed and who were involved in the early labor movement in New Britain, stated that (and I quote them) “the excitement of the times in Washington was felt in New Britain,” according to Weber.

In 1934, federal law protecting the right to organize,  the first industrial union of the Depression formed at Landers, Frary & Clark. Collective bargaining began for semi-skilled and unskilled workers as the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) took off in many factory towns. That “Landers Independent  Union” would go on to affiliate with the UE and Local 207 was born in 1936. Recounted Weber: “This marked the beginning of an effort to organize all of the industries in New Britain. It is interesting that this drive was carried out by New Britain’s own home-grown cadre of organizers most of whom were under 25 years of age and many of whom were members of the Communist party.”

Early on, the chief organizer for the UE in New Britain was Mike Petanovich who faced beatings from company “goons” and went on to fight in WWII never to return to the labor movement after the war.  Others — familiar to many retirees — followed including Nick Tomasetti who would go on to be elected to the Legislature  Other UE organizers noted by Weber included Joseph Salwocki, James Wilson, Dan Dragone, Ira Shyer, Robert Barrows and Laddie Michalowski.

“The local UE leadership developed a plan to start organizing all of New Britain’s industries on a factory by factory basis. It was decided to organize the factories out of the Landers local including the remaining divisions of Landers. The organizers went to the various industrial plants in New Britain and handed out leaflets calling for workers to attend a meeting. Six to twenty people showed up from most plants with the exception of Stanley and New Britain Machine. Stanley and New Britain Machine were particularly difficult for the leadership to get workers to become involved in organization efforts because Stanley and New Britain Machine were friendly with their workers and had better working conditions than the other employers.”

The UE’s organizing drive continued to be stymied at Stanley and eventually the American Federation of Labor’s  IAM led by Jack Aguzzi won the first contracts at Stanley that remains a global hardware brand where just about every product line is manufactured somewhere else. “Organizing efforts at Stanley were not successful until May, 1945 when the International Association of Machinists was recognized as the employee bargaining unit” and Frank Rocco became “the youngest elected president of an IAM local” after his military service in the war.

The other CIO union,  the United Auto Workers, broke through in 1943 with a bargaining unit at  Fafnir Bearing Company. The UAW’s Tony Bracha credited Marty Greenberg as one of the organizers who organized workers forcing Fafnir to finally recognize the union.

Just as federal labor law during the New Deal empowered the UE to organize the factories, the post-war  Taft Hartley provisions of the Wagner Act and the travesty of red baiting took out the UE as the union for most of the city’s  industrial workers.  The union that turned New Britain and other towns in New England  into  “union towns” gave way to  the UAW and IAM,  both of which maintained a strong and militant labor movement for better wages and working conditions in the post-war era.

By 1991 when Attorney Weber gave his Saturday Night Club talk he noted the toll taken by industries going global for cheaper labor and offshore plants saying the city “has become a town of union retirees.”

But unions and the labor movement still figure prominently in the life of the city not only among retirees, but among the thousands of residents who still belong to a union and appreciate how important organized labor is to the city’s heritage.  Happy Labor Day.

 

 

 

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Inside City Hall: Stewart’s Civil Service Commission Abuses Power, Violates Charter

Posted in city government, city politics and government, ethics, Republicans by nbpoliticus on January 15, 2015

The Civil Service Commission’s  efforts to remove from office and impose fines on Council President Pro Tem Suzanne Bielinski over the Council’s hiring of her niece, Jessica   Gerratana.  as the Common Council secretary,  is a costly misuse of government for partisan purposes.

Ignoring  the City Charter , the Commission voted last  October 6th for the ouster of the long-serving  Bielinski  and  for a $2,500 fine on the alderwoman after  Commission members agreed to take up  a complaint and the unsubstantiated accusations of  Ward 5 Republican Ald. Louis Salvio.  The Commission’s latest gambit came last week when, upon advice of lawyers from  Murtha Cullina, it backed away from recommendations for  a $2,500 fine and the removal of Bielinski , referring the matter “informally”  to the Common Council for action, but still insisting on a $250 penalty.

Civil Service Commissioners, acting without a shred of legal standing  and with the tacit approval of the Stewart Administration and its Corporation Counsel,  attempted to set  itself up as judge and jury of Alderwoman Bielinski’s conduct. Despite high-paid legal advice to back off, the commission continued to double down on its illegitimate actions.

Nearly forgotten in this charade of an “investigation”  and abuse of power by the commission is the earlier decision by the city’s ethics commission to throw out Salvio’s complaint for insufficient evidence.  By charter and ordinance,   the ethics commission is the only municipal body sanctioned to consider conflicts of interest by the Mayor and Council members.

By retaining an outside firm to avoid any “conflict of interest” in advising the Civil Service Commission,   Corporation Counsel  Gennaro Bizzarro side-stepped his non-partisan responsibilities in favor of rewarding political friends.

His choice of a law firm reinforces the partisan nature of the Civil Service Commission’s actions against Bielinski.  Murtha Cullina’s partners are Republican-leaning, having represented New Britain Republicans in the Ward 5 ballot case in 2013 and serving as “observers” on Election Day last November in an intrusive attempt to challenge Democratic voters at the polls.

Attorney Bizzarro knows very well that one of the city’s full-time staff attorneys could have interpreted the City Charter and rendered  an opinion in a heartbeat.  The City Charter could not be clearer on this issue. A commission in the executive branch of government has no role in the censuring or removal of a Council member.

With litigation and a grievance pending Ald, Salvio and the Republicans are heading for the exits and doing damage control. The immediate and unfortunate result, however, is that legal costs to the city are likely to escalate by the tens of thousands of dollars because of the partisan use of government  by New Britain Republicans. It’s budget time and not a good time to be playing politics on the taxpayer’s dime

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Selling Watershed: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Posted in selling municipal assets, water resources by nbpoliticus on August 13, 2014

CITY HALL WATCH: 

Controversial Sale of Watershed on Common Council Agenda Wednesday, August 13th

The proposed sale of watershed property to the Town of Southington — opposed by residents who testified at a July hearing —  is on the New Britain City Council agenda at  Wednesday August 13th meeting of the Common Council.

Mayor Erin Stewart and Republicans, who last year falsely charged that the O’Brien Administration was planning to sell off New Britain’s watershed,  are pushing strongly for a $1.2 million sale of the Patton Brook Well to Southington.

The move would break with the city’s longstanding policy of retaining valuable watershed assets in exchange for a one-time shot of revenue proposed at $1.2 million and may open the gates to similar sales of public assets as the city remains mired in borrowing and deficits and a property tax increase of 11% this year.

The Board of Water Commissioners reportedly approved the deal but the Stewart appointed board was not unanimous with only three members present and one of those Stewart-appointed members abstaining.  Public testimony at the Council committee hearing was unanimously against the sale.

In July the Democratic Town Committee adopted a unanimous resolution opposing the sale of watershed to Southington.

Stated Rep. Rick Lopes (24) in a recent letter to the editor: “The idea that Southington refuses to renew the lease for the well because they no longer need it does not hold water when it is followed up by their offer to buy and renovate it for millions of dollars. If the town really does not need the well, then why would they buy it from us? Obviously the well is part of their long-term water sustainability plan and they see great financial savings though purchasing the asset instead of leasing it indefinitely. Water and access to water will always remain a valuable asset. The city of New Britain had the foresight to purchase property with access to water all over the state and these water rights remain among our most valuable assets. Giving up wells and reservoirs are short-term fixes that will only cost the city in the long run.”

Public participation begins at 7 p.m. for the regular Common Council meeting in the Council chambers at City Hall.

 Related Story from July 17th Hartford Courant

 

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