December 13 - 20, 2006
By MIKE MCGARRY, The Hartford News Staff Writer
The Question your servant keeps bringing up is: How are the bills going to be paid by the City of Hartford? Projections show huge deficits in the next few years - but the city cannot run in the red.
The next Mayor and Council face a tough fiscal year next year but after that, things really get out of hand. Anyone thinking of becoming an investor in the city should be concerned unless this coming campaign comes up with some solid answers. As we mentioned several weeks ago, pious outrages about the current Mayor are only details, it’s all about the money and not nickels and dimes. Firing a few aides or consultants makes good press but means little to the scary bottom line.
The city has four choices, let’s go over them in detail:
State Aid: All of us agree that the city does not get enougn P.I.L.O.T. for all of the land gobbled up by the state, colleges and hospitals, and we get nothing at all for all the various good works strewn around the city. However, the city continues to shoot itself in the foot by taking taxpaying land for magnet schools. With a projected 500 million dollars state deficit, we probably won’t see much of an increase anyway.
Tax increases: A zero sum game. The city already punishes new investment and increases in real property taxes are a given with reval alone. The hope of new wave of homeowners (condos and new scattered site construction) is tempered by increased interest rates, new opportunities in West Hartford and, yes, a higher tax bill from the reval and yearly budget-driven tax increases.
Cut the budget: Even we crusty conservatives think most departments in the city have reached the bottom of the barrel. Except for the Mayor’s office (did we really need 311? It sounds like a Mayor Eddie for Mayor commercial.) Every department seems to be short staffed to the point of being almost useless. Look at the housing department - just about gone and housing of all types adds to the only great hope …
The Grand list: This column expects great things from those who wish to become mayor. Our calculations show that Hartford must produce over two billion dollars in additional taxable grand list properties in the next four years to just keep up with rising (unavoidable) costs.
As readers of this column know, your observer thinks that growth of the grand list is the only real issue of substance in the coming campaign. The city needs more jobs, goods and services, and, yes, taxes to keep its place in the sun. The idea (floated by Tom Condon) that we should “shrink” means we will be sunk. We need more residents in safe, secure homes to be customers for businesses that provide jobs, goods and services, and yes, taxes. We have plenty of open space that should be developed, commercial and residential, tree lined and landscaped, so that Hartford can reach its potential.
So, candidates for Mayor, what is your plan? Where, what, when, who and how? Show the citizens your numbers or they just might show you the door.