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Hartford Mayor's Proposed Budget Calls For Increased Spending, Rise In Property Taxes

By JENNA CARLESSO and STEVEN GOODE

April 20, 2010

HARTFORD Amid what he called an "economic tsunami," Mayor Eddie A. Perez on Monday proposed his vision of the next fiscal year: A $554.3 million budget that increases spending and raises property taxes.

Perez's budget includes a tax increase of 3.85 mills, or 5 percent, bringing the tax rate to 76.64 mills. That equals $76.64 for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

The city offered two examples of what the increase might mean: a $320 annual tax increase on a single-family home assessed at $56,840, or a $1,364 annual increase on a mixed used property assessed at $93,480 that includes both a business and a residential unit. The estimates were based on a random sampling of city properties.

Spending would increase by $19 million, or 3.5 percent, over last year.

Perez said the 5 percent tax increase was "necessary" and that it "hurts everybody."

The tax increase is expected to bring in about $19 million in revenue to help close an estimated $27 million shortfall. The rest, Perez said, was closed through a reduction in proposed school spending, refinancing debt, and line-by-line scrutiny of department budgets that saved about $1.4 million.

"It's a real difficult situation. You trim, trim, trim, and you get to a point when you think: What else can I shave off?" council President Pedro Segarra said. "Some costs you can't control."

But there may be room for more cuts. Segarra said the council might consider contributing less to the city's pension fund.

The council will begin budget deliberations in early May.

Perez's budget, which must be adopted by the city council, includes an additional $2.5 million in education funding, but that's short by half of the $5 million the board of education was seeking.

School board Chairwoman Ada Miranda said the board has already discussed possible funding scenarios ranging from no increase up to its $5 million request.

She said the $2.5 million cut was among the scenarios discussed and that the board could reach much of the required savings by not making up the first two snow days in the next school year or deferring a payment to the pension plan.

Hartford students attend school 182 days a year two days more than mandated by the state.

Councilman Kenneth Kennedy said he was encouraged that the school board had explored solutions that don't affect the classroom, but added that he was disappointed by the mayor's proposal to raise taxes.

"I think it's safe to say that the council has been clear that they don't want a tax increase," Kennedy said.

But Kennedy said he appreciated Perez's efforts to listen to council members preferences and that he expected to the debate to continue in upcoming budget meetings.

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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