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Hartford Mayor Releases $543M Budget; Seeks $3 Million In Union Concessions

By JENNA CARLESSO

April 15, 2013

HARTFORD Calling it "one of the most difficult fiscal challenges," Mayor Pedro Segarra on Monday unveiled a $543.9 million budget proposal for 2013-14 that keeps the tax rate flat but calls for $47.7 million in cuts and $3 million in employee concessions.

The cuts include reductions to 15 of the city's 20 departments and a hiring freeze for more than 100 vacant positions. Departments such as fire and public works would be affected by the cuts, Segarra said, but he pledged that there would be "no reductions to essential city services."

The proposal is a 0.7 percent increase over the current $540.3 million budget.

"I have no intention of burdening the taxpayers any further," Segarra said Monday. "They have endured a lot over the past years. I've heard over and over from residents, council [members], businesses, investors and owners that taxes are just too high. This budget responds to those concerns."

The city council will have an opportunity to amend the mayor's budget. The deadline for the city to adopt its 2013-14 budget is May 31; the budget takes effect July 1.

Under the mayor's plan, the city would close a $70 million deficit predicted for next year primarily through the cuts, but also by tapping the rainy day fund, taking $13.5 million from the account that currently holds about $26 million; through the employee concessions; and with $17.6 million that the city has saved by restructuring its debt.

However, in order to keep the budget balanced without increasing the tax rate, the mayor said he will draft a memorandum of understanding with the city treasurer that will allow the city to pay about $13 million in pension contributions during the course of the fiscal year. The rest of the contributions about $24.3 million are built into Segarra's budget proposal.

Segarra did something similar in the 2012-13 fiscal year. He drew up a memorandum of understanding saying the city would pay $11 million in pension contributions during the course of the year. The mayor so far has paid all but about $2.6 million of that amount, and has committed to paying the rest by June 30, Treasurer Adam Cloud said Monday.

"I'm willing to be as flexible as possible," Cloud said. "I [can] force him to pay me, but no one can force him to budget anything. He has the right to budget what he wants to. If he chooses not to budget the full amount, that's fine as long as he pays it."

Segarra's proposal includes streamlining of departmental travel costs and technology purchases. He said he also has frozen all city employee purchasing cards credit cards used for travel, dining, office supplies and other expenses through June 30, 2013.

The mayor said he plans to submit a resolution to the city council that abolishes a lifetime health care benefit program for new city employees. The EMBERS program allows certain employees including department heads, the mayor, the chief operating officer, the chief of staff, city council members and the city treasurer to receive free lifetime health care benefits after serving 10 years with the city, at least five of which must be in a qualifying position. The proposal would probably only affect new hires, Segarra said, because of contractual issues with current employees.

Segarra this year built $1 million into the budget from union concessions. But he didn't reach that target and, in September, the city laid off 14 employees. Asked how he hoped to achieve a higher number next year, he said in an interview last week that the layoffs demonstrate he is serious about getting the concessions.

"This budget is built on the concept of shared sacrifice," he said Monday. "We will have to do more with less."

Union leaders said Monday that they would have to meet with the mayor before making any decisions. Several unions just last year negotiated new contracts.

"We negotiated a contract in good faith that's fair on both sides," said Richard Holton, president of the Hartford Police Union, which has about 456 members. "At this point, I don't see any reason as to why we would alter or amend that contract."

The agreement between the city and the police union reached last year includes wage freezes for two of the years and raises in four (3 percent pay increases in three of the years and 3 percent in the fourth). It runs retroactively from July 2010 to July 2016.

Larry Dorman, a spokesman for Local 1716 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 4, a union representing about 330 full-time and 100 part-time city employees, said members have "sacrificed time and time again." The contract negotiated with the city last year which runs retroactively from July 2011 to June 2015 calls for 9 percent pay raises over four years and for members to take two furlough days by June 30, 2013.

"It's dispiriting and upsetting to hear the mayor wants more from the people who have given up time and time again," Dorman said. "Our members have stepped up to the plate and made sacrifices. The mayor and representatives need to look elsewhere instead of continuing to balance the budget on the backs of the workers who provide the services citizens need."

The mayor earlier this year had asked all department heads to submit three proposals for 2013-14 a nearly flat budget, and plans that call for 5 percent and 10 percent reductions.

Five departments' budgets were increased those of police, the registrars of voters office, the city council, the audit department and management and budget. The council budget will go up by $47,689; the registrars' budget by $83,329; audit, $6,720; management and budget, $58,871; and police, $3.4 million. The council and police budget increases will allow for the hiring of new positions the council budget calls for one additional employee, while the police budget factors in the hiring of 30 new recruits. The recruit class is expected to begin work with the city in January 2014.

Segarra stressed that his budget proposal for next year was "far more austere" and fiscally "prudent."

He drew criticism last spring for crafting a budget that relied on revenue that ultimately didn't materialize. The 2012-13 budget included $12.2 million in state reimbursements for school construction projects and $1 million from a new, voluntary payment in lieu of taxes program targets that weren't met.

Segarra said his 2013-14 proposal includes revenue from the state, though he won't redistribute Hartford's share of the payment in lieu of taxes about $13.5 million to education cost sharing, as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget proposal recommended.

City Council President Shawn Wooden said Monday that although he supports keeping the tax rate flat, he doesn't agree with the increase to the city council budget. He said he hopes the council approves a proposal he had submitted that would reduce the number of council staff positions from nine to seven.

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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