MARB getting closer to approving West Haven’s five-year recovery plan

West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi meets with members of the state Municipal Accountability Review Board in City Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 22.

West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi meets with members of the state Municipal Accountability Review Board in City Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 22.

The city, bolstered by the hiring of a new outside fiscal consultant, came closer Wednesday, Aug. 22, to having the state Municipal Accountability Review Board approve the five-year recovery plan that’s necessary before it can collect millions in recovery state aid.

But it’s not quite there yet.

“This is by far the closest that we’ve come” so far in the process, MARB chairman and state Office of Policy and Management Commissioner Benjamin Barnes said at a City Hall meeting of the MARB’s West Haven Subcommittee.

“This is a tremendous leap forward compared to where we’ve been,” Barnes said of the latest draft of the plan, written with the assistance of UHY Advisors, a national public accounting firm represented at the meeting by partner Jack Reagan.

But Barnes and other subcommittee members offered a number of suggestions of things they still would like to see the five-year plan address.

Near the end of the meeting, however, discussion did turn to a possible timetable that could see the five-year plan approved by the full MARB in September.

The meeting left Mayor Nancy Rossi, who at past MARB meetings has weathered talk of possibly pushing West Haven into from its current Tier III to Tier IV, which would cede even more control to the state, feeling hopeful.

Tier 4, which MARB members also have said they hope to avoid, is a higher level of supervision under which the MARB would have the power to pass and implement an interim budget, raise the city’s tax rate or impose mid-year spending cuts and have greater latitude to approve or disapprove new labor contracts.

But Tier IV was hardly mentioned Wednesday.

“What I feel today is that we’re a lot closer than we’ve been in the past,” Rossi said.

She told MARB members that she hoped to see the next draft of the plan go before the City Council on Sept. 10 and then to the full MARB on Sept. 13.

The next MARB meeting had been scheduled for Sept. 6, but Barnes said he could probably have it pushed back to Sept. 13 to allow West Haven time to refine the plan and present it to the council and the MARB subcommittee prior to that date.

Barnes said he would like to see the city build into the recovery plan a timetable to restore the city’s fund balance — currently in the red — to about 5 percent of the city budget. He said he would like to see it at 10 percent but felt 5 percent was more realistic for a five-year time frame.

MARB subcommittee member Patrick J. Egan, former president of the New Haven firefighters union and former assistant chief/executive officer of the New Haven Fire Department, also said he would like to see a fund balance of at least 5 percent of the city’s annual budget, which currently is $162.86 million.

That would require a fund balance of about $8 million.

Both also said they would like the plan to show how the city will fully fund both the police and Fire Department of the City of West Haven — Allingtown pension funds during that time.

Reagan told the MARB subcommittee that at this point, “We have a glide path” to increase Police Department pension funding to 100 percent at end of five years, and the Allingtown Fire Department fund to about 90 percent.

City Acting Finance Director Linda Savitsky said that so far “we’re very comfortable with the level of rigor” shown by UHY Advisors.

Among the concerns expressed by MARB members was one first expressed by member Tom Hamilton, chief financial officer for the Norwalk Public Schools and a former West Haven finance director, that the city include a cushion for possible health self-insurance overruns of at least $600,000.

That’s in line with the recommendation of The Segal Group, another consultant hired by the city. Savitsky said the city currently has a cushion of about $250,000. Reagan said that with an additional $100,000 the UHY has identified, “I’d say there’s about $350,000.”