HARTFORD —— Less than two weeks after the city froze all spending in the registrars of voters' office, saying it was nearly $120,000 over budget, Mayor Pedro Segarra and city council members have proposed cutting the registrars' salaries and reducing their deputies' hours to part-time.
Hartford has three registrars — a Democrat, a Republican and a Working Families Party member — as opposed to two, like most municipalities. This has created a budget headache for an office that's had to juggle the salaries of three registrars and three deputy registrars with all of its other expenses.
By state law, the first- and second-highest vote-getters are appointed to the registrars' office. But the law also says that both the Democratic and Republican parties must be represented in the office. The Working Families Party registrar, Urania Petit, was the second-highest vote-getter in the last election.
Segarra and Democratic councilors Shawn Wooden, Kenneth Kennedy and Kyle Anderson, along with Working Families Party councilors Larry Deutsch and Joel Cruz Jr., sponsored the salary reduction proposal. The council is currently considering the matter.
They are calling for the registrars' salaries to decrease from $80,000 to $60,000 annually, and for the deputy registrars' salaries to drop from $43,000 to $21,500 annually. The deputies would become part-time positions.
The registrars could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The deputy Republican registrar, Daniel Kiernan, said he didn't want to comment because he hadn't seen the proposal.
"It's a necessary money-saving change," Deutsch said. "It communicates that everyone in city government must follow budget requirements."
Deutsch said an equal pay cut for all three registrars is important. Colleagues on the council had suggested during a budget-cutting session last month that two registrars — the Republican and Working Families member — become part-time, and that the Democratic registrar remain full-time, since most of the city's registered voters are Democrats.
Members of the council's minority party balked at the idea.
Kennedy said the pay cuts are necessary to ensure the office doesn't exceed its budget again next year.
"We're trying our best not to cut positions, so that mandates salary reductions," he said. "We're not going to relive this past year. We're not repeating this cycle."
On June 13, the city sent a letter to the registrars' office saying it was over budget and could spend no more money — including funds for payroll — for the remainder of the fiscal year. The fiscal year ends June 30.
The city approved a $583,909 budget for the office for 2012-13. It originally had proposed allocating $763,909, but the council cut that figure by $180,000. The registrars since then have reached out to the mayor's office and council members repeatedly, seeking additional money.
Registrars have said the office faced financial difficulty this year because of unforeseen events, like an election case that wound up in court, and a subsequent special election held to decide the winner of the Democratic primary for the 5th State House District seat.
Democratic Registrar Olga Vazquez said earlier this month that she's already short-staffed and can't afford to cut employees to meet budgetary requirements.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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