Financial experts say if Bridgeport stays on its current path, the city will be bankrupt within a few years.
The city’s future is in the hands of elected officials who still may have time – if they act quickly – to prevent the worst from happening.
Consider what happens when a city goes bankrupt.
- Children suffer – Schools lay off teachers and cut budgets for supplies. Extra-curricular activities are eliminated. Libraries close. Parks are not maintained and recreational activities are suspended. Kids with too much free time have no safe place to go.
- Parents suffer – They work harder and harder to make ends meet and keep a roof over the family’s head. They worry their children aren’t safe. They deal with the stress and anxiety that come with feeling insecure.
- Seniors suffer – Retired city workers see their pensions and health care benefits cut. Retired homeowners on fixed incomes can’t afford tax increases, even if their mortgages are paid off. Every day brings painful choices between paying the bills and buying food or medicine.
- City employees suffer – Many lose their jobs. Those who remain face pay cuts and worse. Morale is low as public servants feel pressured to work harder and do more with less, while facing angry citizen complaints about deteriorated services.
- Crime rises, threats increase – Citizens wait longer for police, firefighters and paramedics to respond to calls. Ambulances stop working. Broken streetlights do not get repaired. Abandoned buildings attract crime and disorder. Hopelessness leads to more drug and alcohol abuse.
- Businesses suffer – People have less money to spend so local businesses struggle to stay afloat. When businesses close, people lose jobs and buildings sit empty. There are fewer city employees to process paperwork so it takes forever to obtain a business license, file a zoning request or pay a fee. New businesses avoid the city. The downward spiral continues.
- Brain drain and talent flight – Well-to-do homeowners sell their properties, cut their losses, and move away. Highly skilled and valuable city employees depart for better jobs. Those who remain tend to be the ones who weren’t so fortunate to begin with and have less to offer now.
- The poor get poorer – Because a crisis always hits the most vulnerable people the hardest. Citizens living paycheck-to-paycheck are pushed into homelessness when they lose their jobs. More people in need and fewer city services mean less support for families struggling to feed young children.
- The sick get sicker – Clinics close. Restaurant health inspections are reduced. Uncollected garbage and neglected properties harbor rats and stray animals that are vectors for disease. Poor nutrition and inadequate health care make people more susceptible to illness, especially children, the elderly and the poor. Health problems left untreated become worse. In extreme cases, people die due to cuts in public health services.
- It’s hard to dig out of the hole – Bankruptcy cuts off a city’s lifeblood by blocking its access to credit. Even after emerging from bankruptcy, the city’s cost to borrow is higher and the stigma of bankruptcy remains. The city is less competitive with other municipalities and is less attractive to new residents or business investment. Progress is jeopardized for many years to come.
To ensure this does not happen in Bridgeport, the state legislature and Gov. Dannel Malloy must pass a law creating an independent financial oversight board. This will help Bridgeport rein in wasteful spending and make constructive changes before things become even more out-of-control.
Waterbury, Hartford and New Haven are also at risk of bankruptcy and could benefit from a financial oversight board created at the state level. New York City and Washington, D.C. are strong cities today because financial oversight boards helped them reorganize in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Connecticut’s cities deserve the same chance to restructure their finances and begin working toward a brighter future.
Tracy Geoghegan works for Save the Children, a Connecticut-based charity serving vulnerable girls and boys in the United States and 120 countries around the world. She lives in Bridgeport.