HARTFORD —— In its sixth and final budget workshop Thursday, the city council discussed possible ways to close an estimated $17.8 million deficit for the 2011-12 budget, but came to no conclusions.
Mayor Pedro Segarra is expected to deliver his proposed budget on April 18.
The council focused its discussion Thursday on ideas raised during this year's — and in some cases, last year's — budget workshops, including merging the city's parks and recreation departments, drawing from the reserve fund, getting concessions from city labor unions and raising property taxes.
Council members differed on some ideas, but were aligned on others.
Councilman Ken Kennedy said he favored merging the parks and recreation departments, but Councilman Calixto Torres disagreed, saying that he remembered when the two departments were separated to provide better service.
"The issue here is not to create a new department, but to provide the manpower necessary to allow public works to clean the city's parks," Torres said.
Kennedy responded that he understood there was a staffing issue, but said the recreation department lacks vision in providing services to city youth.
On the subject of obtaining concessions from city unions, Chief Operating Officer David Panagore told the council that if the city asks for concessions every year, it essentially becomes an annual "pay cut." The council sought and received union concessions last year.
But Torres suggested that the concession discussions focus on parts of the contracts that aren't related to salaries.
Regarding drawing from the reserve fund, Panagore cautioned that the move would amount to a one-time revenue infusion, followed by a multiyear expenditure as the city works to rebuild its credit rating and pays higher interest on bonding projects. The city's credit rating is based in part on the amount of its reserve fund.
No one on the council favored raising property taxes, including council President rJo Winch, who said she would rate the idea a "minus 560." Councilman Larry Deutsch suggested that raising taxes could actually reduce revenues as residents move out of Hartford.
Segarra suggested that "there is a lot of activity you can do to stimulate the economy that doesn't include raising taxes."
A public hearing on Segarra's proposed budget is scheduled for April 26 at Bulkeley High School. A final budget must be adopted by May 31.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at