The adoption of the Hartford budget revealed a flaw in the city charter that must be corrected.
The charter says that if the city council fails to adopt a budget by May 31, the city has to use the budget from the previous year. This becomes a problem in a declining economy when the city doesn't have the revenue to support last year's budget.
That might have happened this year. The city's budget for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, is $547 million. But revenues fell more than $12 million short of that figure, and had to be supplemented from the rainy day fund and other one-time sources.
Mayor Eddie Perez initially wanted to keep the $547 million budget, which would have involved an average residential tax increase of 13 percent and even higher taxes on many businesses. Most council members thought the tax increase excessive and wanted to cut the budget. They battled Mr. Perez in the last week of the month, and then on May 31 agreed to a $535 million budget and a still-too-high 6.5 percent tax increase.
If they hadn't agreed to adopt the compromise budget, it would have reverted to $547 million, the current year's budget. That would have meant higher taxes.
This charter formula should be changed. The system should encourage the council to adopt a budget by the deadline. But if the lawmakers fail to do so, the new budget should revert to the previous year's revenue level, or the previous year's mill rate, not the previous budget.
Since some fixed costs will rise, city leaders would have to look for serious spending cuts, something they didn't do this year.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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