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Hartford Council Cuts Millions From Perez's Budget

JEFFREY B. COHEN

May 20, 2009

HARTFORD - Tuesday was red pen night for the Hartford city council as it worked to cut Mayor Eddie A. Perez's proposed $547.6 million budget and mitigate the potential 13 percent tax increase on the average homeowner.

And the red pen was busy. The council cut two of Perez's budget highlights, eliminating his $1.5 million foreclosure program and cutting $600,000 from his $1.1 million arts stimulus program. It cut his police budget by $500,000, his education budget by $3 million, and roughly $550,000 from its legal services budget. More than $11.2 million had been cut by 9:30 p.m.

But by late Tuesday, the council had yet to act on one hot-button resolution whether to cut $6.4 million from salaries and fringe benefits, threatening job cuts if no deals are made between the city and its unions.

Perez has called this budget his toughest ever, and his proposal keeps funding flat. But it increases taxes on the average homeowner by 13 percent, or $378. And many small businesses can expect tax hikes of 20 to 25 percent, a move that some small business owners say could chase them and others outside the city's limits.

The budget calls for a tax rate of 77.23 mills, or $77.23 for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

Since Perez proposed his budget, the city council has held weeks of budget hearings. Last week, the consensus on the council was that the tax increase would be much less than Perez had proposed. He proposed an 8.89-mill increase; the council was pushing for no more than 3 mills.

Despite the grim news, Perez worked hard to sell two items to the public and the council his $1.5 million foreclosure-prevention program, which died, and his arts stimulus plan.

The latter was cut in half, but keeps alive a total pot of city and federal money of $1.1 million for area arts organizations who apply to the city, get selected through a competitive process and pledge job preservation or growth.

Although the council had threatened to eliminate several departments, it only reduced their budgets and redistributed some functions. And while the council took away, it also added at times giving the city's libraries, cut by Perez, another $125,000 to open Saturdays and have longer after-school hours. An effort to eliminate the city's 311 call center and the mayor's constituent services failed, but the constituent services budget was cut.

The council was continuing its work at 10 p.m. When it approves the budget, Perez will have the opportunity to line-item veto the council's work. Then, next week, the council will have the opportunity to override the mayor.

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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