City council holds public hearing and votes on stipend changes tonight

UPDATED at 6:40 pm

BRIDGEPORT — The city council’s ordinance committee will hold a public hearing tonight at 6 p.m. in City Council chambers over proposed amendments to the city’s ordinances governing how councilors get reimbursed.

The full council will then likely vote on the proposed changes table a vote on that at the 7 p.m. meeting.

The proposed change, sponsored by Robert Curwen, would give each councilor a debit card with $9,000 over the course of each year to spend. Every three months, the card would get refilled with $2,250.

Currently, councilors spend money out of their own pocket and get reimbursed after they show receipts to the city’s finance department, which reimburses them.

Curwen said the current system taxes councilors twice on that money, which many councilors use for cell phone and computer purchases, travel and hotel expenses for council-related events like training and conventions, and on meals, etc.

Update: The proposal will return to the ordinance committee for three reasons: there’s conflict in the draft language between fiscal year (July 1 to June 30), council year (Dec. 1 to Nov. 30), and calendar year; they haven’t hammered out the plan with the bank that would supply the cards; and the city hasn’t made readily available the documents supporting the draft proposal (including a new tax law opinion that counteracts the legal opinion that supported the former policy). The ordinance committee will take the issue back up at its meeting in late June.

They are taxed when they spend their own money, he said, and then are re-taxed on the reimbursed money each spring when they file returns. But the debit card plan would mean that only city funds ever get spent.

“I did some research and no other municipalities in the country charge taxes on reimbursement of money expended,” Curwen said by phone Monday. “So now, by getting the card, you’re only taxed once at the time of use.”

Richard Paoletto, Jr., co-chair of the ordinance committee, also said by phone that the change should simplify matters for the finance department, which won’t have to comb through piles of receipts anymore. Instead, the department will receive regular statements about every purchase on the cards.

Paoletto acknowledged there is often public concern over how councilors spend their $9,000 a year.

“No matter what the naysayers say, the people who throw stones,” he said, “(the money) is something available to us, and most of us use it. Some don’t, and that’s their own personal decision. But honestly, the people on the council…are not looking to abuse anything.”

Tim Loh