ERIN STEWART: New Britain's financial journey reaches stability

Published on Monday, 4 April 2022 12:35
Written by ERIN STEWART

NEW BRITAIN MAYOR

It’s hard to believe, but later this month I will present my ninth budget to the Common Council since being first elected “way back” in 2013. Anyone who has even remotely followed the work we’ve been doing over the past eight and half years knows that our city’s finances have always been my top priority, and when you look back and see just how far we have come, it’s not hard to understand why. Shortly after I first took my oath in November of 2013, I was informed that New Britain was facing a deficit of nearly $30 million. From that moment forward, my mission as mayor was clear:  getting us back on the road to financial stability and responsibility.  

It was a harsh reality to accept, one that would mean making tough and unpopular decisions. I had to get comfortable with the idea that, if I did my job the right way, it might very well mean that I was a one-term mayor. But I also knew that I had been given this responsibility for a reason and as long as I was upfront and honest with them, our residents would understand and rise to the challenge.  

A complete overhaul of the city’s finances requires three legs – think of a stool. If you break one of the legs, the stool falls over. The three legs of New Britain’s financial stool were: 1) cutting expenses, 2) managing our debt, and 3) growing our revenues. If we were going to climb our way out of that deficit, it was going to take all three legs of the stool to get us there.  

The first thing we did was restructure our workforce. We reconfigured how City Hall operates, streamlined and created efficiencies wherever possible, and partnered with our city employee unions to achieve significant savings when it comes to personnel costs and benefits.  

Next, we developed a multi-year strategy for actively managing our debt. In 2013, the annual increases in the city’s debt payments for 2014 and beyond were so large that they threatened to bankrupt us. So we took advantage of the very low interest rates at the time and began a series of restructuring transactions to give us the breathing room we needed to get our budget under control and also to begin attracting new investment to our city so that we could grow our tax base organically. On March 26, 2022, the Common Council approved what I believe will be the final piece of that restructuring and will leave New Britain with something it hasn’t had in almost 20 years – a debt  profile that slopes down, not up. Incidentally, I’m very proud that every transaction we’ve executed as a part of this strategy received bipartisan support. 

Finally, we placed a command focus on creating an environment where businesses large and small want to locate and invest. We’ve partnered leaders at all levels of government to bring millions back into New Britain through transit-oriented development  initiatives, actively marketed the city to CEOs and entrepreneurs alike, and continued  to invest in our own critical infrastructure. The result? Last year, I signed a 2% tax cut into law – the first one in over 15 years. Later this month, my budget proposal will make that tax cut permanent.  

Cut expenses. Manage our debt. Increase our revenues. Those were the three legs of the stool we built back in 2013 and used to climb out of that $30 million-dollar hole. It’s taken a long time, but anything worth doing always does. Now it’s up to the people of this city to continue holding their elected officials accountable and make certain that we never end up in position like that again.

Erin Stewart is the mayor of New Britain



Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns, New Britain on Monday, 4 April 2022 12:35. Updated: Monday, 4 April 2022 12:37.