BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- The state board that oversees Bridgeport met yesterday, and while hampered by the city's bankruptcy filing, again called on the city to balance its budget.
On an 11-to-1 vote, the Bridgeport Financial Review Board told the city to get its financial house in order by cutting spending or raising revenues. Mayor Mary C. Moran cast the only vote against the resolution.
The board says that Bridgeport's $319 million budget for the current fiscal year is about $16 million out of balance.
William J. Cibes Jr., the chairman of the review board, acknowledged that by seeking bankruptcy protection the city has placed the board's role "somewhat in limbo" for now. He added that it "is difficult to proceed with litigation given the city's filing. Nevertheless, we ought to take some sort of steps to achieve some level of balancing of the city's budget."
Under Chapter 9 of the federal Bankruptcy Code, the filing of the petition acts as a stay on other court actions, such as the writ of mandamus that the board might otherwise seek to force the city to comply with its mandates.
Yesterday's vote marked the second time in two months that the board has commanded Bridgeport to pass a balanced budget. The board also passed a resolution on June 13 trying to force the city to levy higher taxes. It gave the city a late June deadline, which the city ignored.
Yesterday, the board presented another deadline. It said that if Mayor Moran fails to comply with this current mandate by July 29, Mr. Cibes would be "authorized to take such other and further action. . .as may be appropriate."
Even though the board has found itself largely ineffectual since the bankruptcy filing, its members yesterday began to contemplate increasing its responsibilities if the city's bankruptcy petition fails.
According to Donald A. Kirshbaum, the executive director of the state's Bridgeport Financial Review Board, the 1988 legislation establishing the board provided for an increase in oversight power if the city failed to gain access to the credit markets.
Mr. Kirshbaum said that the city's bond ratings, which sank below investment grade after the June 6 bankruptcy filing, may mean that the city no longer has market access.
That, in turn, could mean that the review board will have to shoulder new duties in some of the nettlesome fiscal areas that the city is now trying to cope with in court, such as labor contracts.
Lawyers will have to be consulted to determine what new responsibilities the board would have, the executive director said.
Much of Mr. Kirshbaum's comments, and indeed most of the board's actions at its monthly meeting here yesterday, rest on the assumption that the city will see its petition for protection from creditors thrown out of bankruptcy court by the end of the month.
But Mayor Moran said yesterday that she remains confident that Bridgeport's plea for court protection will be accepted. She said she was "very confident that the city is going to be able to sustain its position" in court hearings slated to begin next Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Mr. Kirshbaum announced yesterday that Judge Alan H.W. Shiff, who is presiding over the case, had slated hearings to last until 7 p.m. that night, and from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and the following Monday. He called the judge's schedule "ambitious."
Members of the review board, except Mayor Moran, outwardly professed that the city broke state and federal law in filing its bankruptcy petition.
Mr. Kirshbaum said the judge would also come to that conclusion by the end of this month, allowing the board to begin running the city's fiscal affairs with its new powers.
In other matters yesterday, state Treasurer Francisco L. Borges, a member of the board, said city officials had consistently failed to provide adequate financial data, which he called a "chronic problem" for Bridgeport. "It seems to me," he said, "that if this city is ever going to get its act together, that problem is going to have to be eliminated."
The board also attempted to gain access to more information from the city, but Mayor Moran said that anything pertaining to the bankruptcy petition would be off limits. "The litigation is over the budget," said Mr. Borges. "All the data can be arguably claimed to be part of the litigation." He accused the city of playing a game of "cat and mouse."
Mayor Moran steadfastly opposed the other board members' requests for more cooperation. "We are participants and adversaries in litigation," she told the other members of the board. "I don't think anybody's playing cat and mouse."