Hartford Council Votes To Override Mayor's Veto Of Overtime, Hiring Freeze
By JENNA CARLESSO
April 08, 2013
HARTFORD —— Signaling that it wants greater fiscal accountability as the city faces a projected $70 million deficit next year, the city council on Monday voted to override Mayor Pedro Segarra's veto of a proposal calling for a freeze on all overtime pay and hiring that exceeds the city budget unless approved by the council.
The panel overturned the veto on a 7-2 vote, with Councilmen Alexander Aponte and Raul DeJesus Jr. casting the dissenting votes.
"I would put it very simply: The council is fulfilling its obligation and its role to be very careful with the way [the city] spends taxpayer money," Larry Deutsch, a member of the Working Families Party and the panel's minority leader, said Monday. "This has nothing to do with personalities, or with one department or another. It's a general matter of checks and balances."
Segarra has said the proposal creates too many issues, mainly for public safety and the public works department, which rely on overtime in emergencies. He also charged that the proposal infringes on the mayor's duties as chief executive and interferes with the police and fire chiefs' ability to run their departments.
Segarra vetoed the plan last week. The council had approved it a week before that.
The mayor has cautioned that he would "have no choice but to explore other options," including legal action, if the council reversed the veto. Through his spokesperson, he declined to comment Monday night.
Under the proposal, all requests for overtime that exceed departments' budgets must be approved by the council. 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 made 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 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.
Council President Shawn Wooden, also a Democrat, said he would meet with the mayor Tuesday to discuss the best way of handling the new requirement.
"Many of us ran on a slate with the mayor. We talked about collaboration and partnership, and we will continue to work with the mayor," he said. "We just want what's necessary to protect the taxpayers of Hartford.
"We all respect our mayor; we just disagree."
City officials have said that 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 for the public works department; $933,500 was budgeted, according to numbers provided by the mayor's office.
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.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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