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Voters Will Want Full Explanation

Facing a $768,000 debt, officials in Bridgeport have had to dig deep to find ways to get village finances back on an even keel. If there is a source of additional income they did not consider, we cannot for the life of us think what it could be.

Members of a state-mandated commission agreed last week to accept a financial plan developed for the village. Implementation of some changes under the strategy has begun.

Village council members this month approved a new 1% income tax on Bridgeport residents as the single largest component of the recovery plan. After a “ramp-up period” of about three years, it is expected to produce about $250,000 in new revenue annually.

But the plan has many other moving parts. They include increased fines for some traffic and misdemeanor offenses, a new business license fee, higher sanitation charges and an increase in construction permit fees.

Most of those changes will raise little new money in comparison to two other big-ticket items. Village leaders hope to gain voter approval of a new tax levy to support the police department, to bring in $110,000 a year. And they are planning on $300,000 for new or renewed oil and gas leases on property owned by the village.

What happens if voters say no? And what if income from the leases is substantially less than officials expect?

We don’t mean to be critical by asking those questions. As we have stated previously, all involved in devising the financial plan deserve praise.

But it is a fine-tuned machine with many parts that must work in harmony. If that does not happen, it could be back to the drawing board for Bridgeport officials.

Give them credit for making the tough decisions to resolve a problem that was years in the making. Now that they have taken the most important step — devising a plan that seems acceptable to state government — their next priority should be explaining the need for a new police levy. There is plenty of time to do that; the levy is to be placed on the May 2020 ballot.

Clearly, municipal taxes and fees were held below levels needed to pay the bills for several years. Making voters understand the need to make up for that may be difficult, but doing so is vital.

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