HARTFORD —— The city council on Friday adopted a $538.8 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year that keeps the tax rate flat and decreases spending by $1.5 million over the current budget.
The adopted plan reflects an adjusted $5.1 million reduction from Mayor Pedro Segarra's original budget proposal of $543.9 million.
The council last week cut $8.6 million from the mayor's budget, but Segarra rejected more than half of those cuts, opting for a roughly $3.9 million reduction instead. The $5.1 million decrease represents a compromise between both sides, council members said Friday.
"Not everyone got what we wanted," Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, a Democrat, said. "Compromise is not easy. No one is ever happy with compromise. The administration is not happy and we're not completely happy, so we probably have a pretty good budget."
The 2013-14 plan passed by a vote of 6-2-1. Councilmen David MacDonald and Raul DeJesus, both Democrats, cast the dissenting votes and Larry Deutsch, a member of the Working Families Party, abstained.
MacDonald said he could not support the budget because too much money would be taken out of the city's rainy day fund. The adopted plan calls for a withdrawal of $8.34 million from the fund, which currently has about $26 million. Segarra's original budget proposal called for a withdrawal of $13.5 million.
Throughout the budget process council members said they were concerned that depleting the fund would jeopardize the city's bond rating.
"The city cannot afford this budget," MacDonald said Friday. "I think it's fiscally irresponsible."
The $5.1 million in cuts were made across several departments, including $1.7 million to the police department budget; $500,000 to the fire department budget; $100,000 to the emergency services and telecommunications budget; $385,000 to the public works budget; and $103,000 to the development services budget.
Consensus on the cuts came after several days of back-and-forth between the mayor and the city council. After Segarra rejected some of the panel's budget cuts, council members raised concerns about whether the mayor had the legal authority to do so.
A lawyer in the corporation counsel's office said Segarra does have the authority, but an independent attorney hired by the council earlier this week said the mayor does not. Attorney Steven Mednick issued an opinion Thursday saying no words in the city charter indicate that Segarra has the power to reject or amend the council's budget reductions.
In the end, though, council members said they wanted to compromise with the mayor so a budget could be adopted on time. Friday was the deadline to approve a spending plan.
"I don't think anyone is happy. [These are] very difficult budgetary times and people have different priorities," Segarra, a Democrat, said outside council chambers Friday. "But I like discourse and compromise, that's what government is about."
He said the final plan still reflects his main goals.
"My objectives were met — not increasing taxes and not decreasing essential services," Segarra said. "In this budget process, I deferred a lot to what the community wanted. I believe I did what they wanted."
Council President Shawn Wooden, also a Democrat, said Friday that although he was pleased with the budget agreement, city officials could do more to put Hartford on a fiscally responsible path.
He noted that he has called for the creation of a task force that would study the city's pension, health care and benefits structure and recommend changes.
"City hall needs to stop kicking the can down the road," Wooden said. "I am optimistic that we can make city government more sustainable, efficient and effective."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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