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Perez: Hartford Makes Strides, But Faces Tough Budget Year

STEVEN GOODE

January 13, 2010

HARTFORD - Mayor Eddie A. Perez, reviewing the past year and looking toward the future, said the city should finish the 2009 fiscal year in the black, but predicted a revenue shortfall next year as high as $40 million.

"We're challenged by a decrease in local tax revenue and an increase in the cost to deliver basic services," Perez said during an address Tuesday at the Metro Hartford Alliance's Rising Star Breakfast Series.

Perez told an audience of business leaders that the city has a long list of accomplishments to be proud of over the past several years, including the construction of a new convention center, and the opening of the new Connecticut Science Center, two hotels and more than 2,200 housing units.

Perez highlighted school reform efforts that have resulted in improved test scores, lower dropout rates and the recent inclusion of four city high schools in U.S. News and World Report's listing of the best high schools in the country. School building projects have generated $700 million worth of construction.

"I'm especially proud of the investment and progress we've made in the area of education," he said.

Regarding public safety, Perez said that the city, through a variety of enforcement and prevention efforts, has continued to reduce serious crime and improve the quality of life for residents and visitors. But he acknowledged that the city must change its perception as an unsafe place.

He said the construction of a new $77 million public safety complex also will create 800 new jobs.But that won't put much of a dent in the city's unemployment rate, which stands at 14.1 percent, nearly double the statewide average of 7.9 percent. Perez said that if discouraged and underemployed workers are included in the unemployment calculation, the rate jumps to 26 percent, or 9,000 city residents.

Perez said that Hartford, the third-poorest city in the nation for 20 years, must continue to deal with poverty and the fact that half its property is not taxable. The city relies on the state and federal governments for payments in lieu of taxes, which often are only a fraction of what the city could charge if those properties were privately owned. Perez also estimated that the city loses $18 million in taxes annually as a result of tax-exempt properties.

Perez said that the key to the future is to position the city for an economic recovery that is at least a year away. To do that, Hartford must be poised to supply workers to future employers, especially for jobs in health care, green technology and construction.

Perez didn't say how he'd do that in his speech, but a spokesman said later that Perez hopes to continue building schools and seeking new training programs for displaced workers."We need jobs if we're going to remain competitive," he said. "A strong city plus a strong region equals a strong state."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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