Hartford Residents Praise Mayor's Budget, But Caution About Spending Cuts
By JENNA CARLESSO
April 24, 2013
HARTFORD —— Residents at a public hearing Wednesday praised Mayor Pedro Segarra for crafting a budget proposal that does not increase the tax rate, but urged him to be cautious about where he chooses to make spending reductions as the city seeks to close a deficit.
Segarra has proposed a $543.9 million budget 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 reduce 15 of the city's 20 departmental budgets and freeze more than 100 vacant positions. Segarra has pledged not to reduce essential city services.
City resident Alyssa Peterson said she felt that the mayor had listened to the community when creating his budget proposal.
"It's so critical that we do not raise taxes or the mill rate," she said during the public hearing at Bulkeley High School. "It would have harmed Hartford this year."
Peterson said she was happy that Segarra had elected to tap the city's rainy day fund for $13.5 million, rather than further burden the taxpayers.
But Elaine Hatcher, a resident who formerly worked for the city's public works department, said she worried about borrowing money from the rainy day fund, which currently has a balance of about $26 million.
"We're going to have a bonding issue if you keep borrowing money from the rainy day fund," she told the mayor. She cautioned against making cuts to the city's public works department, particularly sanitation workers, who "work hard and work long hours."
Hyacinth Yennie, a South End resident, applauded Segarra's decision not to increase the tax rate, but asked him to avoid cutting critical services like police, fire and public works employees who keep streets clean.
David Ionno, another resident, said he was glad that Segarra had eliminated the practice of awarding bonuses to many employees, but asked that the mayor closely monitor employees' use of city credit cards.
"I would suggest, if you want to take someone out to lunch, you brown bag it," he said.
Under Segarra's budget proposal, the city would close a $70 million deficit primarily through cuts, but also by tapping the rainy day fund; through the employee concessions; and with $17.6 million that the city has saved by restructuring its debt.
In order to keep the budget balanced without a tax rate increase, the mayor said he will also draft a memorandum of understanding with the city treasurer that allows 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 included in Segarra's budget.
The proposal is a 0.7 percent increase over the current $540.3 million budget.
The city's deadline to adopt its 2013-14 budget is May 31.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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