HARTFORD —— The city council on Tuesday postponed taking a vote on the 2013-14 budget while members try to figure out whether Mayor Pedro Segarra has the legal power to reject their amendments to his $543.9 million spending plan.
The panel is expected to vote Friday — the city's deadline to adopt a budget.
The council last week cut $8.6 million from Segarra's proposed budget, including reductions of $2 million to the police department and $1 million to the fire department. But the mayor on Thursday rejected more than half those cuts, opting for $3.9 million in reductions instead of $8.6 million.
Council members raised concerns last week about whether Segarra has the legal authority to disapprove the cuts. The city charter states, "The mayor may reduce or disapprove any item or items of expenditure in any proposed appropriation." Council President Shawn Wooden said it was unclear whether the mayor could reject cuts made to the budget, or only reject additional expenditures.
Segarra's spokeswoman, Maribel La Luz, has said the council amendments all concern expenditures, and that the mayor does have the authority to reject them.
In an effort to clarify the issue, the council voted Tuesday to hire an independent attorney to issue an opinion on whether the mayor has the right to disapprove the cuts. The attorney, Steven Mednick of New Haven, will provide an opinion by Thursday, Wooden said.
If the mayor does not have the authority to reject the cuts, the council's amendments will stand, Wooden said. If he does have the authority, Wooden said, the council will likely overturn some of the mayor's changes. The council needs a super-majority vote — seven members voting in favor — to override any of Segarra's adjustments.
"We're in discussions to reach an overall compromise," Wooden said Tuesday. "If we're not comfortable, if we don't reach a consensus … we'll proceed with the votes to override [the mayor's amendments]."
Council members have said the cuts are necessary to preserve the city's rainy day fund. The mayor's budget proposal calls for a withdrawal of $13.5 million from the fund, which currently has about $26 million. Withdrawing too much from the account could jeopardize the city's bond rating, members have said.
"I'm trying to work with the mayor," Wooden said. "I would prefer all of the cuts [stand], but I'm willing to accept something less than that.
"But there has to be significant additional cuts to his budget to add something back to the rainy day fund."
The council will meet at city hall Friday at noon.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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