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Nothing But Bad News

Steve Goode

March 19, 2010

It was impossible to get everything that was put on the table at Thursday night's committee of the whole workshop into today's newspaper story. So we'll try to fill you in on at least some of the rest right here.

After listening to the four decidely unpleasant scenarios to save nearly $27 million put forth by city COO David Panagore, the city council and Mayor Eddie A. Perez were led through a 14 question exercise by Ted Carroll, president of Leadership Greater Hartford and ace workshop facilitator.

The questions were designed to guage city officials' appetite for: consolidating school and city operations; moving from a defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution pension; establishing a new governance model for city parks; securitizing parking revenues; aggressively selling unused or under utilized city assets; pursuing increased revenues through more advertising on billboards and bus shelters; strengthening the city's financial capacity to improve services, eliminate waste and increase revenue; and increasing the city's grant-writing staff.

Council members voiced different levels of support for having city staff look into the viability of cost savings from the above. Jim Boucher was high on long term leasing of the city's parking, but Larry Deutsch called it "false hope" and Ken Kennedy referred to it as "too risky. In the long term I think we would lose." Later in the discussion Luis Cotto acknowledged that depending on the revenue that could be raised, he could "fall in love with securitization."

Council members also differed on the subject of advertising on billboards and bus shelters with Kennedy all in favor but Deutsch and Cotto against the idea.

And on the subject of improving services while eliminating waste and increasing revenue, council president Pedro Segarra said it sounded an awful lot like the job description for being on city council. "That should be ongoing," he said.

Carroll also asked the council to weigh-in on their apetite for funding school spending; getting concessions from the unions; funding the city's contribution to the employees pension plan; payroll savings through lay offs, retirements and attrition; taking up to $8 million from the city's $16 million rainy day fund and last but not least, increasing property taxes by up to 7 percent.

While there was little to no interest in raising taxes more than minimally or implementing lay offs, there was a difference of opinion on raiding - um - borrowing from the rainy day fund. Segarra said it wouldn't be wise since the council had assured ratings agencies that the city planned to increase its size, not decrease it. But Deutsch countered that many Hartford residents are getting rained on.

Ultimately the council will probably pick and choose something from a variety of the revenue sources identified at the workshop because the reality is they don't have a choice. And the choices will come with their own variety of consequences, from effecting education at a time when the district is finally making some progress, to hurting the city's bond rating, to sending small businesses and residents running for the less taxed hills.There really is no good news here.

Reprinted with permission of the CityLine blog of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the CityLine at http://blogs.courant.com/cityline/ and the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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