The state board overseeing the city of Bridgeport, Conn., voted Wednesday to reject the budget that Mayor Joseph P. Ganim proposed for fiscal year 1993, which begins July 1.
The 1988 state law that created the Bridgeport Financial Review Board requires rejection of any budget that, like the one proposed for 1993, relies on revenues or savings based on financial agreements not yet final.
Sources present at a meeting where the vote was held said Mayor Ganim, and ex-officio member of the nine-member board, abstained from voting, but that all other board members present voted to reject the $301 million plan because of its questionable balancing techniques.
The board gave city officials 15 days from the time of the vote to devise an acceptable budget. The mayor could not be reached for comment.
The questionable aspects of the rejected financial plan include $2 million in savings from city worker health benefits, as well as $10 million from the sale of the city's zoo to the state. Negotiations on both the health benefits and the zoo sale are incomplete.
City officials estimate that Bridgeport's Beardsley Zoological Garden are worth about $25 million, though sources said the state's appraisal was substantially less, at about $14 million.
Originally, city officials spoke of receiving roughly $40 million from the zoo sale. That figure corresponded not to the actual market value of Beardsley, but to the amount that would have been needed to lessen the city's debt service load by $10 million a year over a period of five years.
As a result of the proposed sale, Mayor Ganim had reduced the city's debt service burden by $10 million for fiscal 1993 in the rejected budget.
One city official said that the rejection was on narrow grounds and did not indicate a rift between the review board and the city. Mahesh Reddy, director of the city's Office of Policy and Management, said, "On a technical basis, they have rejected the budget."
But he asserted that the rejection might be viewed as something that "puts the pressure on the state to come forward and provide the necessary relief" by agreeing to purchase the Beardsley Zoo. "In order to come to some final closure, they had to take that action of rejecting the budget," Mr. Reddy said.
Both rating agencies that assess the city's credit have it under review. At Moody's Investors Service, which lowered Bridgeport's bond rating to B from Baa after the city's mayor filed for protection under the federal Bankruptcy Code last year, an analyst said the labor and asset sales agreements should be made final before the coming fiscal year.
We will be reviewing the city's bond rating in the next few weeks and will certainly be looking at what happens with the 1993 budget," said Joan Dougherty, a vice president and manager with Moody's.
At Standard & Poor's Corp., which assigns a rating of CCC to $77 million of the city's uninsured GO bonds, an analyst said that because of various factors, including the rejection of the budget this week, the city will likely remain under review at least until early next month.
"We haven't spoken with the city yet to get their feelings on the rejection of the budget," said Standard & Poor's Vice President Richard Marino." But I don't think [city officials] should be surprised. My impression is that they will make every effort to come to a solution as soon as possible."
Standard & Poor's, which lowered the city's rating from BBB in the wake of the bankruptcy filing, is poised to upgrade Bridgeport bonds.
But Mr. Marino said yesterday that another factor delaying an upgrade could be the city's current sale of property liens in an effort to seize some of the $12 million in overdue taxes. Bridgeport officials are relying on the unprecedented property tax lien auction, slated for June 29 and 30, to close a gap estimated at $6.5 million in the budget for fiscal 1993.
"It's a risk as to what they're going to get from the tax liens," Mr. Marino said. But he added that Jerome I. Baron, the city's recently installed finance director, had experience with lien sales in his previous job as finance chief in Providence, R.I.
"He feels comfortable with the projections of what the tax liens are going to generate, and that the process will work," Mr. Marino added.
Kathleen Burke, the executive director of the city's Management Advisory Committee, said she had spoken to review board members after the meeting. "They indicated that they did not think that there would need to be an additional mill-rate increase," she said.
Bridgeport's property taxes have long been a source of frustration for city residents. At a mill rate of 63.3, or about 64 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, Bridgeport's tax levy is among the highest in the state. A mill rate is an increment of taxation measured in units of one-tenth of one cent.
It was partly in order prevent a mill rate increase that Mayor Mary C. Moran on June 6 last year filed a petition for protection under Chapter 9 of the federal Bankruptcy Code. At the time, the mill rate was 60.3., the members of the Bridgeport Financial Review Board called for a property tax increase of 10.9 mills, or 18%, to balance the fiscal 1992 budget.