Hartford Residents Air Fears About City Budget And Taxes
JEFFREY B. COHEN
April 29, 2009
Mayor Eddie A. Perez opened Tuesday's public hearing on the city's $547.6 million proposed budget by telling those who sat in the auditorium at Bulkeley High School that he, and the city council, were there to listen.
And for nearly four hours, they did.
Angry taxpayers, concerned unions, young people fearing cuts in youth programming, artists supporting the mayor's proposed stimulus funding, library-goers fearing library cuts, and board of education retirees upset with the cost of their health benefits — they all came to be heard.
When it came to the pain of tax increases, florist John Tornatore summed it up.
"You have raised my property taxes in three years from $9,800 a year to $16,400 a year," said Tornatore, whose taxes on his Gordon Bonetti Florists would go up 27 percent to $16,400 if Perez's budget passes. "We will not be here a year from now if you continue on this road. We can't pay you."
Perez recently unveiled a $547.6 million budget that keeps overall spending flat while raising taxes significantly. The average homeowner's taxes could go up $378, or 13 percent. Many small businesses are seeing tax increases of between 20 percent and 30 percent. The council is now beginning its deliberations.
The early portion of the meeting Tuesday was dominated by young people and their supporters in white shirts that read, "Stand for Youth!" And they stood, for the better part of two hours, telling their elected officials they didn't want to see cuts in youth services.
Various speakers came to support one of the budget's silver linings — $1.1 million in city money for an arts stimulus program, bolstered by another $600,000 in federal funds.
Paul O'Mara said that the arts brought him to the city 34 years ago. "It's such a small city geographically … [but that is] so culturally rich," O'Mara said. "The arts will create more jobs per dollar than most of our other sectors."
He also expressed concern about funding for libraries, which Perez has proposed to cut.
"I know times are really hard, but the library system is so critical to some of the poorest people in our city who depend on it," O'Mara said.
Police union President Richard Rodriguez spoke for a coalition of unions and argued that the city should "identify waste and inefficiencies before cutting services" and that "laying off workers [should be] the last option, not the first."
And former city Councilman John O'Connell spoke on behalf of the Hartford Small Businesses and Taxpayers Alliance, and gave a list of suggestions for the city as it gets ready to debate the mayor's budget.
Among other things, O'Connell told the city council not to act until it gets the mayor's report on the third quarter of this year's budget.
This, he said, should be the map "you should use to chart your course."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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