'Compromise won out over catastrophe," crowed Mayor Eddie Perez, when the council finally passed its new $535 million city budget with just hours to spare Sunday.
"We all did the best we could for the city of Hartford, all nine of us in the council and the mayor," apologized Councilman Matt Ritter.
"We just have to work harder next year, so that hopefully we don't continue this madness of taxing our residents out of existence," wimpered one of the few budget naysayers, Councilman Pedro Segarra.
Yeah, whatever helps you sleep at night.
Because here's the thing, boys while you're all trying to rationalize a budget that increases the tax rate by 6.5 percent, there's lots of people feeling mighty trapped in a city that continues to offer less while asking for more.
All over the city, residents I talked to this week wondered: What were these elected officials thinking don't they know people are losing their jobs, their homes?
And what exactly are we paying for again? Potholed streets, neglected parks, schools lacking in the basics?
But more than that, let's look at the message this budget sends: Want to buy a house? Open a business? Look elsewhere because unless you're packing a fat checkbook, Hartford's probably not the place for you.
Nick Lebron, a social worker, was born and raised here; so was his wife. Last year they moved out after a shooting in their neighborhood. But while their address is in New Britain, their lives are in Hartford.
Lebron and his wife work and volunteer in the city. Their three children go to Hartford magnet schools. And now that they're looking to buy a home, they're hoping to move back.
But economics are going to play a big part in that decision and right now, the numbers may not add up.
"I love my city," Lebron said. "But if it comes down to finances, I'm going to have to buy a house somewhere else."
Way to chase stability out of the city people.City officials are quick to point out that things could have been worse the 72.79 mill rate is much better than the hysterical figure Perez initially floated. And the tax hike only adds up to another $188 for the average taxpayer with a home assessed at $172,000. Much better than the hit businesses are going to take.
But that's no solace for Marcia Watson, who has owned a home on Saybrooke Street for the past seven years and has seen her taxes nearly triple in that time.
"I'm in awe at what they've done," she said. "It's already a struggle and this is just going to make things harder."
Look, we all know there aren't easy answers here. Times are tough and there are hard choices to be made. But here's the thing you can't build a city by slowly bleeding it. And that's exactly what they've done with this outrageous budget.
As great as the state-funded science center is for Hartford, it takes homes, businesses people who can afford to invest in the city to grow a vibrant, working community.
And yet city leaders have the gall to pretty much shrug and say, 'Better luck next year.' We made the tough decisions, they insist. We did the best we could.
No, you didn't. You failed to have serious talks with city workers about givebacks. You held on to cronies raking in fat salaries. And I'm sure there's a juicy contract or two in there we could live without.
Once again, you completely disregarded the interests of the people who elected you.
But then, in Hartford,it's rarely about the people living in the city, but about the people living off of it.
And this tax increase is just another example of the disconnect between the actions of the city's leaders and the lives of the people they supposedly serve.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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