The Board of Finance (BOF) heaped praise on the town’s finance director at its meeting last month for helping Branford again achieve a coveted Triple A Rating, an honor that first began when Unk DaRos was first selectman in 2009.
The rating is the best a town can receive from Standard & Poor’s (S&P), the rating agency. At the time Branford was first awarded a Triple A rating, DaRos said, “We’ve been doing this a long time and the credit goes to Jim Finch, his department, and the Board of Finance.”
The current first selectman Jamie Cosgrove would agree.
Finch told the BOF that in connection with the bonding issues now facing Branford—bonding that could reach in the $90 million area for a number of projects this year and in the future—“we went to Standard & Poors for our rating.” The report reflected, among other things, the town’s strong institutional framework and a strong budgetary performance. When he ended his overview, Joseph Mooney, the chair of the BOF, praised him, his staff, and the first selectman’s office for the Triple A status.
The BOF was aware of the bonding plans. In 2013 Finch presented to the BOF a financial capacity analysis for future capital projects, an outline he knew the board wanted to explore. His analysis spanned a 10-year budget, beginning in 2014 and ending in 2024. It would support between $45 million and $90 million in new borrowing.
Branford’s Bonding Plan Evaluated
There’s a higher demand for an AAA rating because it saves a town money on interest. Finch outlined the S&P report, highlighting its findings.
Although no state budget has been adopted more than three months into fiscal calendar year, Branford has done well in preparing itself, the S&P six-page report said. The report noted that Branford has not had to use its annual $2.8 million annual fund balance over the last fiscal years. Now it will given the state’s situation.
The report pointed out, “In fiscal 2018, in anticipation of reduced state aid, the town budgeted for the use of $6.4 million in fund balance, effectively budgeting for no state aid.”
The decision to take this route, which many towns did not take, was approved by the BOF and the first selectman in June as the mill rate was to be set. Overall, “Branford’s budgetary flexibility is very strong, in our view with an available fund balance in fiscal 2016 of 22 percent of operating expenditures or $24.5 million.
The report went on to say that “given Branford’s available fund balance relative to the worst case scenario reduction in state aid, and the ability to raise additional revenue through adjustments to property tax rates, if necessary, we anticipate that even in a worse-case scenario. Branford will retain a very strong fund balance in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.”
The S&P global rating assigned its triple A “long-term” ratings to Branford’s 2017 general obligation bonds. This year the town is partially bonding the Community House/Senior Center project and the Walsh Intermediate School project, if the state’s $30 million Walsh portion survives the current state budget crisis.
As the state budget crisis unfolded last spring Cosgrove and Finch decided on a plan to utilize the town’s fund balance to offset state loss of education cost sharing funds. In addition, the governor decided to make towns pay teacher pension costs, a state responsibility until now. So far no state plan has evolved regarding towns taking over pension costs.
While Branford, the report said, has a strong economy, a strong management, strong budgetary performance and flexibility, there was one cautionary note in a section entitled: Outlook. “While not likely, a decline in budgetary performance due to declining state aid or from increased pressure elsewhere in the budget, leading to a significant deterioration in reserves, could result in a rating change. As a result, we not expect to revise the rating in our two-year outlook horizon.”
RIP: Kenneth Kaminsky
The BOF also said farewell to a beloved colleague and welcomed a new one.
Mooney paid tribute to Ken Kaminisky, a banker who served on the BOF for the past 16 years. Kaminsky died last month. Mooney observed that Kaminsky brought his banking experience to the many volunteer activities in which he participated over the years, including the Branford Fire Commission.
“He was fiscally responsible and yet compassionate …to say he was a model for public service is an understatement,” Mooney said. He described his colleague and friend as “kind, gentle, strong, handsome and smart.” He will be deeply missed, Mooney said.
Imperato Takes his Seat on BOF
Then he welcomed Bob Imperato, a former RTM member to a seat on the six member BOF. Imperato, who has more than 40 years of experience in banking and finance, jumped into his new role, asking questions of those presenting items to the BOF.
Imperato had served more than five years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) and was chair of the Public Services Committee, and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. He was highly respected in these roles.
At the Republican Caucus in July, Imperato sought the Republican nomination for tax collector in this year’s November election, but was defeated by Sandra Kraus, a finance director at a local Branford company who brought scores of her backers to the caucus to vote. The split within the Republican Party left open wounds and for a time Imperato planned to primary Kraus. He decided against it. After Kaminsky died, Cosgrove appointed Imperato to the BOF. Click here to read the story.
Kraus faces Roberta Gill-Brooks, who is seeking the tax collector’s position on the Democratic ticket. Current tax collector Joanne Cleary, who has served for many years, had previously announced her retirement. In recent years, Cleary, a Democrat, was cross- endorsed.
A New Rescue Boat?
The board heard a request from Fire Chief Thomas Mahoney (pictured) to purchase a specialized rescue boat that would cost about $44,000. Mahoney outlined the need for the boat. Was this considered an emergency? Mooney asked. “Is it needed right now? “ Mahoney replied, “It’s like a lot of our equipment. We don’t need it until we need it.”
Mahoney described how nearby towns, especially Guilford work together when emergencies occur on the water and that Branford and Guilford often work together. “We are a town with potential exposure to waterways,” he said. “Both Branford and Guilford have similar rescue methods, similar staffing. We work interactively, but we don’t share the costs.”
The BOF said it would take the boat purchase under consideration.