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City Looking For More Revenue To Make Up $40 Million Shortfall

STEVEN GOODE

January 29, 2010

HARTFORD - The city could sell power from wind turbines installed on top of the old landfill.

Or maybe charge admission to Elizabeth Park.

It might sell unused school buildings, or tax hospital beds.

Those ideas and others were discussed by Mayor Eddie A. Perez, the city council and department heads at a budget workshop this week.

With a projected $40 million revenue shortfall to make up next year, city officials are considering suggestions for raising revenue, including the tried-and true method of giving residents a tax increase.

"It's important that we have these workshops so that we know what to expect," Perez said. "We're still waiting to see what happens at the state level."

In 2009-10 the city raised most of its $535 million in revenue through $263 million in property taxes, $247 million in intergovernmental grants, $11 million in fees and $4 million in leases and investment activity. But those numbers are likely to remain flat or be reduced, prompting city officials to look for new ways to raise money, including ideas such as selling Batterson Park, renting ad space at city bus stops, selling services such as information technology to surrounding communities and implementing a local payroll tax and commuter tax.

The council also wants to know it can depend on the revenue it budgets.

"We need to know exactly what we're going to get before we count it as revenue," Councilman Calixto Torres said.

The city and the Hartford Parking Authority this week also asked whether private companies would be interested in a public-private partnership for a long-term lease of city-owned parking spaces. The parking consists of three garages, one surface lot and more than 1,600 on-street spaces.

Councilman Matthew Ritter said the city, for example, could determine that it was going to make $45 million over the next 10 years in parking revenue.

"Does the city say to someone, 'You run it,' and take a $35 million lump sum payment?" Ritter said. "You lose on the back end."

But Ritter said a large and sudden infusion of revenue could be used to pay off debt, invest in the city's rainy day fund, collect more revenue from interest on investments, or help offset the city's projected revenue shortfall.

"You're basically saying you need cash now," he said.

Ritter said it's important for the council and mayor to consider unusual options to give property owners still experiencing a phased-in revaluation a break from property tax increases.

"No one wants to raise the mill rate," he said. "The deficit is so large we have to think in nontraditional ways."

The next budget workshop is Thursday in the council chambers. Expenditures will be the topic.

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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