Letter: Why Shelton needs a Board of A&T
To the Editor:
Municipal budgets provide the resources needed to deliver a city’s services and there is no one process that receives more public scrutiny than the budget process. The spending decisions a city makes is driven by the quality of their budget process and the level of oversight from a Finance Board, like the Board of Apportionment and Taxation. These boards are the very foundation of an effective and efficient government because their work promotes transparency and public trust. But Shelton’s Charter Revision Commission (CRC) wants to eliminate that independent oversight and place $128 million of revenue and expenses all in the hands of one body. A move that ignores the basic principles of segregation of duties and checks and balances.
Mayor Lauretti’s response to his opponents is simply: “What qualifies them to say these things?” Let me react to that. With 40 years of budgeting experience in a Fortune 500 company, teaching budgeting at a major university, as well as two years on Apportionment and Taxation, I feel the effort to eliminate A&T will significantly impair oversight and transparency. Therefore, A&T’s current independent role as a Finance Board should be maintained and their duties to review, provide spending oversight and monitoring of budget performance should be separate and apart from the Board of Aldermen (BOA).
The argument that the BOA is the city’s fiscal authority which negates the need for a separate finance board is misleading. The BOA has broad legislative duties to pass ordinances, establish commissions and set policy that protects the well-being of their citizens. Since they also have the authority to regulate the borrowing of money and have ultimate approval of the budget, they have fiscal authority. That is not uncommon. But the ongoing tasks of reviewing, revising, analyzing, reporting and managing a budget are separate from the BOA approval process.
The CRC, the charter, and the BOA all fail to recognize these tasks. Further, the focus on approving a once-a-year document ignores the fact that budgets are long term and strategic with goals and objectives that emphasizes results. The experts in this field, the Government Finance Officers Association, state: “a key principle of municipal budgeting is to have mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with the adopted budget which requires setting goals, allocating resources, evaluating performance, providing feedback and making adjustments.” The goal is to produce accurate budgets, timely reports with publicly available performance information to promote transparency and trust. Consequently, at the federal level independent agencies (GAO, CBO and OMB) not only help prepare the budget but also provide oversight. Good budgeting establishes an ongoing process of control and oversight to ensure that the city’s departments and commissions are held accountable for spending our tax dollars. A role that should be played by A&T, Shelton’s Finance Board. But recent efforts to limit A&T’s responsibilities are systematically removing oversight.
Lastly, by the CRC’s own research, they found that 18 cities or 90 percent of 21 cities with mayoral forms of government had a functioning independent finance board or Board of A&T. Somehow, CRC concluded that this was not relevant. Seymour’s charter explains that relationship and clearly states that: “the Board of Finance is responsible for the management and monitoring of the budget for the current fiscal year. The Board shall coordinate its efforts with the Finance Director, the Finance Department and the Board of Selectmen.” That is the proper role for a finance board.
Therefore, we must do what is in the best interest of the city and its citizens, not what is politically expedient. Eliminating A&T removes an oversight role that fosters debate, discussion and communication with the public. This change will have a negative effect on the fiscal management of this city for years to come. Do not eliminate A&T.