Hartford will never reach its full potential until the city’s residents, workers and visitors feel safe was the main message of Mayor Eddie Perez’s annual State of the City Address. The mayor made his remark before Monday night’s City Council meeting at Hartford City Hall.
Although Perez pointed out that crime in Hartford is at a “historic low,” he added, “But we must do more. We must reduce the murder rate and reduce the negative perceptions we face as an urban community.”
Serious crime in Hartford did drop by 15 percent last year, according to year-end statistics released by the Police Department (see Hartford News, January 16, 2008). But murders increased dramatically (32 in 2007 as opposed to 24 in 2006).
To cut crime in the upcoming year, Perez said the HPD’s Fugitive Task Force will continue to track down “Hartford’s Most Wanter.” In addition, the City will continue to work with State and Federal Authorities to maximize the prosecution of those arrested for gun violence. Perez also said he will ask the State for more parole and probation officers and will call for funding for 30 more police officers in next year’s budget in addition to the 80 new officers that are included in this year’s budget.
In terms of perception, Perez said the city must “use facts to fight fear.” Some of the facts Perez listed were that 2,700 fewer crimes were committed in Hartford in 2007 than in 2003 and that the HPD recovered over 400 illegal guns in 2007 alone.
Perez said Hartford has to reduce blight and deterioration as well as crime. Anti-blight measures will be financed by the first installment of the Hartford Neighborhood Development Fund. Four areas have been targeted: Lower Franklin Avenue; the portion of Frog Hollow lying within the rectangle formed by Park Street, Broad Street, Capitol Avenue and Park Terrace; Barbour Street (from Capen to Westland Street); and an area Perez has dubbed “The Constitutional Curve, which sweeps from the abandoned and vacant Clarion Hotel on Constitution Plaza to other abandoned properties in the Myrtle Street area, just west of Union Station.
After detailing other initiative he will start or continue this year, Perez addressed the question of where the money would be coming from to fund these programs.
In conjunction with the City Council, Perez will ask the State of Connecticut to fully fund the PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) program. This program was created to assist cities and towns where a large portion of tax-exempt property (such as churches, government buildings, schools, etc.). The State Legislature has allocated some PILOT payments but not the full amount.
“If this [PILOT] funding happens, there will be no need to raise taxes in Hartford,” said Perez. “If the State doesn’t, then we have to act quickly and that includes asking our taxpayers to make the sacrifice to keep the momentum going. Let me be clear, the State needs to meet its obligation. I ask the Governor and the General Assembly to set aside their differences and work together to achieve real property tax reform.”
Perez also introduced a new program, “Worker Housing,” in the course of his address Monday night. Worker Housing, according to the mayor, will be located near major employers and would be designed to accommodate entry-level employees with moderate incomes, particularly recent college graduates. Perez is requesting $2 million in Federal Aid for the program, which will be used to secure rights to suitable properties that can then be renovated.