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Hartford Limits Credit Cards To Department Heads

By JEFFREY B. COHEN | Courant Staff Writer

September 25, 2008

As part of its effort to close an anticipated $8 million hole in its $547 million budget, the city of Hartford has decided to revoke credit cards from all city employees except department heads.

In a memo dated Tuesday, Chief Operating Officer Lee Erdmann told the city's department heads that other employees can apply for the credit cards but at the department head's discretion and for emergency purposes only.

"I am certain this will not cause any inconvenience to your departments' operations or hinder your purchasing flexibility," Erdmann said. "These cards are not for any type of personal use."

Sarah Barr, spokeswoman for Mayor Eddie A. Perez, said Wednesday that the city has 76 credit cards. Add in the board of education and the library, and that brings the total to 132. She could not estimate how much the city will save from the policy change. In the year that ended June 30, 2008, the city spent $1.6 million on credit cards.

The new credit card policy is effective Oct. 4.

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, and it could be $8 million in the hole this year and nearly $43 million in the red next year.

Several ways to raise more money and spend less money are being considered. In fact, the city is considering reducing its workforce by 20 percent exempting public safety staff by the fall.

According to a draft report circulated recently at city hall, officials are contemplating offering employees who choose to leave voluntarily as much as 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.

The city's budget has been the focus of a good deal of public attention ever since Perez announced the deficit. Two weeks ago, the city council passed a resolution telling the mayor to comply with the city charter and submit proper financial reporting to the council.

At a recent meeting of the city council, resident and unsuccessful candidate for Republican registrar of voters Kevin Brookman presented the council with city credit card statements that he said suggested waste.

Asked about some of the charges in the documents Brookman had gotten from the city Motel 6, Super Motel 8, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Staples Barr said that those charges were for legitimate city business. The hardware was for materials for a community garden, the Wal-Mart purchases were for prison re-entry and maternal and infant outreach programs, and others were for health-related programming, Barr said.

As for travel charges for a trip to Ireland for Perez, Barr said that expense is being reimbursed by an outside organization.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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