Hartford Finances Open Rift Between Mayor, Council
By JEFFREY B. COHEN
October 03, 2008
As millions of dollars in deficits loom and with possible layoffs on the horizon, Hartford's dismal finances have opened a rift between Mayor Eddie A. Perez and some on the city council who say the mayor has "extremely exaggerated" his revenue projections.
The council is holding meetings to take a closer look at last year's budget and its $6 million deficit as it prepares to make decisions to deal with an $8 million deficit in this year's budget.
The meetings that began Wednesday night at the request of city councilman and budget committee Chairman Pedro Segarra did so with a bit of a twist — Perez instructed his budget and finance directors not to attend, sending the city's chief operating officer alone.
A frustrated Segarra said Thursday that there was "no excuse for them not making themselves available."
But it was the state of the city's $547 million budget, and not the state of its political gamesmanship, that drove Wednesday's meeting.
Perez has blamed much of the roughly $6 million deficit for the last fiscal year on revenues that did not hit their projections. Segarra questioned whether those projections were too high to begin with.
Take, for example, the city's shortfall on investment income. In a letter to Segarra, City Treasurer Kathleen Palm Devine told him that the city's estimates on investment income began high — roughly twice the $2.3 million she had said the city could reasonably expect.
Or, take the fact that the $1 million that didn't materialize from a bond sale.
In that same letter, Palm Devine said the city didn't need to sell bonds when it had $20 million in bond proceeds on hand. Add that to the fact that Perez decided to effectively loan the board of education $4.8 million to cover a deficit it ran in its fringe benefits account without the council's approval, and Segarra and others were left scratching their heads.
Erdmann said Thursday that the city had had several years of good times and trusted its now former Finance Director Thomas Morrison and the city's revenue manager.
"I don't think that much of a shortfall was ever put on the table by the finance director or the revenue manger…until maybe toward the very end of the fiscal year," Erdmann said.
Councilman Matt Ritter says everyone needs to start communicating better.
"It's really imperative that if Kathleen has an opinion, if Pedro has an opinion, that it's heard," Ritter said. "What you can't have is three people with three different viewpoints that never talk."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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