As Hartford's elected leaders begin public hearings on Mayor Eddie A. Perez's recommended $552 million budget, projections of the state's growing deficit has the city keeping a watchful and concerned eye on the Capitol.
According to projections released Thursday by state Comptroller Nancy Wyman, the state's projected deficit is now $67.7 million, far worse than initially anticipated. Only last week, Gov. M. Jodi Rell had projected a $15.7 million surplus for the state, a number she then revised Wednesday to a $19 million deficit.
It is unclear what impact the deficit could have on the city's budget, which includes $249.7 million in revenue expected from the state. Of that total, the city has built into its budget about $13 million in anticipated increases in state funding.
Any severe cut from the state could put a greater strain on local taxpayers who are already seeing a 9.9 percent tax increase under the mayor's plan.
"Of course I'm concerned and Mayor Perez is concerned, but we are confident the state will find a way to work through this," Lee Erdmann, the city's chief operating officer, said, adding that the city would be monitoring the situation daily. "At the end of the day, we will do what we have to do to make sure we have a balanced budget for the city of Hartford."
The city council, which has until the end of May to revise the mayor's plan, started its hearings on the budget Thursday and will continue hearings through May 15. On the agenda for Monday's hearings, scheduled to begin at 5 p.m., are three departments — Perez's office budget, the assessor's office and the human resources department.
City Councilman Matt Ritter, chairman of the council's legislative affairs committee, said Thursday that Hartford is not alone in facing the possible loss of some anticipated state funds. But its residents may be some of the least able to afford it, he said.
"I think it is a grim task for any municipality in the state," Ritter said. "You know you're going to get less money than you expected, and on top of that, you don't know how much less."
"It will certainly be on our minds when discussing the budget," Ritter said. "But if we get less state money, either way we decided, we're either going to have to cut services or raise taxes on people who already can't afford to pay them."
According to the city's finance office, the largest pieces of anticipated state revenue that could be in jeopardy is $7.9 million in state education cost sharing grants; $4.5 million in payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOT payments; and $200,000 in transportation grant money.
The budget hearing dates are May 5-May 8 and May 13-15. All sessions will be held in the council chambers of city hall.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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