Segarra Vetoes Council Proposal To Halt Hiring, Overtime Without Special Approval
By JENNA CARLESSO
April 02, 2013
HARTFORD —— Mayor Pedro Segarra on Tuesday vetoed a proposal by the city council that would freeze all hiring or overtime spending not already budgeted, unless approved by the council.
"Setting aside the legal and historical grounds on which this veto is rendered, there are practical and logistical complications that I fear have not been properly considered," Segarra wrote in the veto message to the city council. "It is our collective responsibility to protect the safety of all residents, visitors and taxpayers. Passage of this resolution would inhibit that ability significantly."
The proposal infringes on the mayor's duties as chief executive officer and interferes with the police and fire chiefs' ability to run their departments, Segarra said.
"I shudder to think about a scenario where we are unable to dispatch critical police personnel to the site of a violent crime or allow our first responders (the fire department) to respond to a horrific motor vehicle accident or serious fire," he wrote in the veto message. "Setting aside council's intentions and potential infringements on the executive duties of the mayor, this action also flies in the face of the powers accorded to the chiefs of police and fire."
Segarra cautioned that he would "have no choice but to explore other options" if the council overrides his veto. That could include legal action, his spokeswoman, Maribel La Luz, said.
To override a veto, seven of the nine council members must vote in favor of the reversal.
The council approved the plan with a 7-2 vote early last week.
Under the proposal, all requests for overtime that exceed departments' budgets must be approved by the council before the money is spent. Several departments, including public safety, rely on overtime for certain operations. The ordinance excludes 911 operators.
The plan also calls for the council to approve any new hiring, including police and fire recruits. Both departments have minimum staffing requirements.
Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, a Democrat who raised the proposal, has said he did so after taking part in several discussions about the city's fiscal issues. He said he was troubled by projections that show a $9.4 million shortfall this year and a $70 million deficit next year.
Kennedy on Tuesday called the mayor's veto response "disappointing."
"You can disagree, but you don't need to [make] a thinly-veiled threat to the council. That's just not going to help us," Kennedy said. "It basically harkens back to a previous administration. When the mayor served on the council he didn't appreciate those things. He didn't think it was appropriate, and I don't think it's appropriate for him to do that as mayor."
"This kind of tone and what appears to be a threat to the council is just counter-productive," he continued. "What would be helpful is if we finally got control over some of our overtime costs. If we can't get that under control as fiscal trustees of the city, we're not doing our jobs."
Council President Shawn Wooden said the council's proposal is also meant to protect the taxpayers — in this case, from spending that could later lead to a tax rate increase or cuts in services.
"Once departments exceed their budgeted amounts, we'd like the administration to come to the council to justify spending more money, rather than spending the money and talking to the council afterward," Wooden said Tuesday. "It shouldn't be controversial for the council to require the administration to seek approval to spend money after it's run out of money."
Shortly before the council voted in favor of the ordinance last week, several members expressed a need for what they called greater fiscal accountability.
Council members said at their March 24 meeting that they weren't trying to get rid of overtime pay or prevent hiring altogether; rather, they would like tighter control over the process.
Kennedy pointed out that some of the biggest costs in the upcoming 2013-14 budget are pensions and benefits. Overtime increases salaries, which in turn boosts pensions, he said.
La Luz said unplanned events -- such as the February snowstorm that brought as much as 2 to 3 feet of snow to parts of the state -- require overtime. So far this year, the city has spent about $1.1 million in overtime costs for the public works department; $933,500 was budgeted, according to city numbers. In 2010-11, the city spent $1.26 million on public works overtime; $1.27 million was budgeted. In 2011-12, the city spent $1.26 million in department overtime; $1.1 million was budgeted.
Overtime costs for police and fire have been slightly higher: $4.9 million was spent on police overtime in 2010-11; $3.4 million was budgeted. That same year, $3.4 million was spent on fire department overtime; $3.1 million was budgeted.
In 2011-12, $4.5 million was spent on police overtime; $2.9 million was budgeted. Fire department overtime costs decreased, however, with $2.5 million spent versus $3.1 million budgeted, according to city numbers.
"I cannot ignore the will of the community, continue to reduce overtime costs and blatantly ignore moving forward with critical improvements designed to improve the quality of life of all who live, work and visit the capital city," Segarra wrote in the veto message. "It runs converse to everything we are attempting to do in Hartford to make this a more vibrant, friendly and welcoming community."
Council members said they will likely explore overriding the mayor's veto at their next meeting, on Monday. Some members said they appear to have the seven votes in favor of a reversal.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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