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Perez, In State Of The City Address, Sees Many Challenges Facing Hartford


March 10, 2009

The city is "seriously challenged," with less money coming in and struggling taxpayers who have greater needs, Mayor Eddie A. Perez said in his state of the city address Monday night.

The portrait that Perez presented surprised few, especially members of the municipal worker unions who are now in negotiations with the city to find ways to reduce Hartford's projected $8 million deficit this year. The deficit could get five times worse next year, Perez said.

In a speech inside a packed city council chambers, Perez detailed his efforts to counteract what's happening to "urban economies," saying that all of the state's big cities are facing the same challenges.

His next budget will be the "toughest budget ever," a "bare-minimum budget," Perez said. Even though he will strive to maintain core city services, there will "be more pain and more personal sacrifice for employees, taxpayers, businesses and visitors," he said.

Among the mayor's proposals was a "temporary" increase in the tax rate to provide $1.5 million in new money to help families in foreclosure.

Despite his dire outlook, Perez said there are bright spots for the city. Schools are improving, and neighborhoods are safer, with serious crime down, although gun crimes were up in 2008. And even though he postponed a police class that was supposed to start in April, Perez promised that it would be included in the next budget.

Pointing to what he called the city's "own stimulus efforts," Perez said that he wants to accelerate city construction projects with federal stimulus money. He also wants to redirect$1.7 million in city funds and existing grants for what he called a "Hartford arts stimulus" that would create "hundreds of new jobs."

After the speech was done and the seats most of which were reserved cleared, some on the council said that they liked Perez's ideas but that they needed to see more details.

Democratic Councilman Matt Ritter said that the council and the mayor will have to discuss funding for both the arts program and foreclosure funding. "We've got to see specifics," he said.

Working Families Party Councilman Luis Cotto said that he was thrilled about the arts funding.

"When [Perez] mentioned it to me three days ago, I was shocked," Cotto said. Now the question is: "How can I help you? And where does [the money] come from?"

Municipal union leader Clarke King said that he knows where the money will come from his union members.

"You can't come into a meeting with us and ask for givebacks and then have other workers up here and tell them how you're going to put them to work with a stimulus package," King said. "Somebody is left out in this issue."

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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