Faced with a budget deficit projected to be more than $40 million, Mayor Eddie A. Perez and the city council have entertained novel ways to raise more money, such as imposing a commuter tax or charging for entrance to Elizabeth Park.
Now they're considering the possibility of getting out of the park business altogether.Putting Hartford's park system into the hands of volunteers or "friends" groups and allowing them to raise the money needed to maintain them was one of several ideas city officials discussed this week as they looked at ways to reduce expenditures.
"We're going to have to solicit more outside support for our parks system," Perez said. "It may take us two or three years to organize."
The discussion of divesting control of the parks and other spending cuts was led by Rick Galarza, the city's director of budget and management, who outlined the city's largest upcoming spending increases.
Of the $42. 9 million estimated deficit, $36 million is the result of mandatory increases, including $7.8 million in contributions to the municipal employees pension fund, $4.5 million in operational costs, $4.1 million in employee benefits and $3 million in debt service. Expected declines in revenue make up $6.5 million of the deficit, Galarza said.
City schools also face a $15.7 million increase in mandatory expenditures.
Galarza's figures prompted the council to consider several strategies, including combining city and school services, considering a less expensive insurance plan for city employees, seeking union concessions, reducing the school board's budget and police and fire overtime, and restructuring the city's debt.
The debt level, which Galarza said is expected to increase from 6.1 percent of the budget in 2009 to 7.9 in 2014, prompted many questions from council members, who said they were troubled by the projected jump.
"I was under the impression that it would be flat for five years," council President Pedro Segarra said.
Council member Jim Boucher questioned the school system's need of an additional $15.7 million to cover increased expenditures and whether the city council could decide not to increase funding.
"The board of education is giving us a projected increase of operational spending next year, just like the city is," said Perez, who is also a member of the board of education.
The next workshop is scheduled for Feb. 18 at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at