More than a week before its deadline, the city council on Monday adopted a $545.9 million budget for 2011-12 that lowers the city's tax rate by half a mill.
The tax rate will be reduced from 72.79 to 72.29 mills. A mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property.
That means someone who owns a house assessed at $200,000 would owe $100 less in taxes next year.
Councilman Kenneth Kennedy acknowledged Monday that this was the first time in years the council had decreased Hartford's tax rate. For the last seven or eight years the tax rate has gone up an average of four or five mills per year, he said, with the exception of 2010-11, during which the tax rate remained flat.
"Last year we took a good first step with a no-increase budget. This year we took a small step further," Kennedy said, "and I think the council should be commended for that."
Despite the reduction, most residents could still see their tax bills go up - as much as 5 percent in some cases - because of a state-mandated property revaluation that would increase the assessed value of residential properties.
Mayor Pedro Segarra originally proposed a $547.7 million budget that increased spending by $3.25 million, or 0.6 percent, over the current fiscal year, and did not require an increase in the tax rate.
The council last week cut $1.75 million from his budget, spreading the reductions among several departments.
In the police department, $300,000 was cut from executive command level expenses and $500,000 from the police overtime account.
The city council account was reduced by $90,000, and the corporation counsel's settlement account was cut by $110,000.
The council also reduced the city's health benefits account by $750,000 because of projected savings.
In trimming the police department's executive command level expenses, council members said they were looking to eliminate two command positions within the department. Command positions include assistant chiefs and deputy chiefs.
The reduction in police overtime won't affect services, members of the panel said. The police department is installing a new computer system to more closely track overtime hours, which should make costs easier to control.
Councilman Jim Boucher said the panel searched for ways to ease the tax burden for residents while maintaining crucial city services.
"I think we worked very hard at finding the balance," he said.
The council on Monday also approved a series of departmental changes, including the establishment of a new Department of Children, Families and Recreation by merging services now performed by separate offices. The department is designed to improve the quality of life for children and families, said Segarra, who came up with the idea.
Councilman Calixto Torres said that in helping craft the budget, council members did the best they could with the resources available.
"Hartford is moving forward despite its many challenges," he said Monday. "[The budget] shows our willingness to be frugal and to spend our tax dollars responsibly."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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