To dig out of a multimillion-dollar deficit, Hartford leaders are considering cutting 20 percent of the city's workforce — exempting public safety staff — by fall.
In a draft report circulated at city hall Tuesday, officials contemplate offering employees who choose to leave voluntarily up to three years of free health insurance or $3,000 a year for three years. The offer would not apply to library or board of education employees.
Earlier this month, Mayor Eddie A. Perez announced that the city's budget was in trouble. It was $6 million in the red last year, it could be $8 million in the hole this year and nearly $43 million in the red next year.
Perez blamed the situation on "the economic downturn and slowed growth in state and federal aid."
The draft document includes various other ways to close the city's budget deficit, from cutting back on capital improvement projects and restricting employee vehicle use to an unpopular midyear tax increase. The city is still seeking union concessions, according to Sarah Barr, Perez's spokeswoman. Barr said that layoffs and tax hikes are options of "last resort."
Still, the voluntary retirement package has already been offered to the city's municipal employees' union, which has close to 500 members. Clarke King, the union's president, said that he wasn't impressed.
"That's no offer," King said. "If I'm making $30,000 a year, why would I take something for $3,000, unless I was within retirement age?"
King said that residents will feel the pain, too.
"[They] told the people in the budget hearings that we had to go up a couple of mill rates on your taxes in order to maintain service," he said. "Now they're not going to get the same services. Let's be honest with everybody."
The city is using more than $6 million of its savings to balance last year's $525.6 million budget. In May, the city council adopted a $547 million budget for fiscal 2008-09, an increase of about 4 percent, or more than $21 million, from current spending. That budget is now projected to be $8 million in the red.
The city's budget has been the focus of a good deal of public attention ever since Perez announced the deficit. Last week, the city council passed a resolution telling the mayor to comply with the city charter and submit proper financial reporting to the council. At that same meeting, several residents took the microphone to criticize the council and Perez for their handling of the budget.
Kevin Brookman, who ran unsuccessfully for Republican registrar of voters, presented the council with pages of financial and credit card information from the city that he suggested documented waste.
John O'Connell, a former city councilman, said he thinks that the city needs to start paying attention to how it spends its money.
"Nobody's minding the store, nobody's accounting for any of the money, it's chaos," he said Tuesday.
City Councilman Pedro Segarra, head of the council's operations, management and budget committee, said that he has not been consulted as the city deliberates on how best to close the budget deficit, and he said that he should be.
"Maybe the council decides we don't want an early retirement and we want to use some other cost-saving mechanism," Segarra said. "We're stakeholders in the decision-making process."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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