April 17, 2007
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez has recommended a 2007-08 budget that would, in part, put more police officers on the streets, re-establish a mounted police unit and dedicate millions to programs for city youths.
The mayor's spending plan would raise the average annual residential tax bill by $193, according to the city assessor's office.
"Hartford must continue to invest in itself," Perez said in releasing the budget plan Monday.
The $517.88 million proposed budget represents an increase of $20.98 million, or 4.22 percent, over current spending. And although several city departments would see increases - chief among them police, public works, finance, health and human services - the city's fire and education departments would get no new money.
The bulk of the spending increase can be traced to labor contracts with municipal unions, health coverage, debt service and anticipated legal settlements, which combined account for nearly $13.4 million of the hike.
And although spending would increase, the city's tax rate would decrease - going from 64.82 mills to 61.10 mills, the mayor's office projects. The decrease can be attributed almost entirely to a recent revaluation that dramatically increased city property values, officials said.
Property owners would face a tax rate of $61.10 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. But with higher values, the average property owner could expect a higher tax bill, city officials said.
The city council will review the mayor's proposed budget before making any amendments and adopting it by the end of May.
The mayor's proposal holds the city's portion for schools at $261 million, the same as last year.
Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski has not yet presented a budget to his board of education - he'll do that April 24 - but he said he asked the mayor for the same $261 million next year that the schools are receiving this year. In addition, he said, Perez, who also is chairman of the school board, has promised to pass on all the revenue that the city receives from the state for education.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell's budget proposes a $10.6 million increase for Hartford in the Education Cost Sharing Grant. That additional state money would equate to about 4 percent of the current city education budget.
"It's the most sizable increase in state revenue that we've had in years," Adamowski said. "It will be a great help to our system as we redesign ourselves."
Perez said Monday that his proposal assumes that Rell's budget is adopted.
"If that doesn't happen, then we will have to sharpen the pencil and consider some cuts on the educational side," Perez said. "But we hope not to have to do that, because we think the governor's numbers are healthy for what the state should be investing in education."
The mayor's proposal adds $1.7 million to the city's police department for 80 new police officers, plus a unit of officers mounted on horseback. The additional officers would be trained in two batches of 40 - one class in October 2007 and the second in April 2008.
The proposal also increases the budget for the city's new Office for Youth Services by $2 million in an effort to add new after-school programs and to continue helping kids get year-round and summer jobs. Some of the money will be used to implement a city intern program, Perez said.
"For the last 25 years, the city has gotten out of the business of enrichment and recreation," Perez said Monday. "The more positive options we have for young people, the less they will choose the negative options that are out there."
Perez said he also expects to break ground this spring on a new public safety complex and to continue to repair and construct new schools.
A public hearing on the mayor's proposal will be held on April 24 at 6 p.m. in the auditorium at Bulkeley High School.
Courant Staff Writer Rachel Gottlieb contributed to this report.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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