Hartford Mayor's Budget Aims For Minimal Tax Increase
But Union Concessions, Cuts To City Departments Required
By JENNA CARLESSO
April 12, 2013
HARTFORD —— Mayor Pedro Segarra will propose a budget Monday that includes little to no increase in the tax rate, he said, but that will come at a price — tens of millions of dollars in cuts to city departments and hoped-for concessions from city unions.
Segarra said most departments will see a 5 or 10 percent reduction in their budgets. The mayor, who is tasked with closing a projected $70 million deficit, earlier this year asked all department heads to submit three proposals for 2013-14 — a nearly flat budget, and plans that call for 5 and 10 percent reductions.
"We're really tightening the belt," Segarra said. "The people of Hartford … have been very clear that continuing to raise taxes is not the solution, nor does it benefit us in terms of moving the city forward."
In an interview this week, Segarra provided few specifics about exactly where the cuts will come from, but he said departmental purchasing and consulting fees will take a hit. Several vacant positions were eliminated, and hiring for other jobs will be delayed, Segarra said.
Segarra said, however, that three budgets could see increases — those of police, the registrars of voters office and the city council. The increase in the council budget, from $554,000 to $602,000, would allow for the hiring of a ninth council aide, matching the number of councilors.
The mayor did not go into specifics about how much the police and registrar of voters' budgets will increase. The registrars' budget was cut last year, from $763,909 to $583,909, but additional money had to be transferred this year to cover overruns.
Segarra said he'll seek more in union concessions than he did this fiscal year, but declined to give an exact figure. The target for give-backs in 2012-13 was $1 million, but that amount wasn't reached, and 14 employees were laid off in September.
Segarra said the layoffs demonstrated that he is serious about reaching the concessions goal. Non-bargaining-unit employees will face the same level of concessions as the union workers, he added.
"This is going to be a shared-sacrifice budget," he said. The mayor said he'll begin meeting with the unions early in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Segarra last year drew criticism for crafting a budget that relied on revenue that ultimately didn't materialize. The 2012-13 budget included $12.2 million in state reimbursements for school construction projects and $1 million from a new, voluntary payment in lieu of taxes program — targets that weren't met.
This year, Segarra said, his budget is less optimistic and more fiscally conservative.
"I'm not going to be as liberal as I was last year [in terms of revenue] because I don't want to end up in a deficit situation," he said.
For example, although the city is owed about $27 million in reimbursement from the state for school projects that go back a decade or more, Segarra said he would include no more than $3 million in school project reimbursement in his budget.
Segarra said his budget includes revenue from the state, though he won't redistribute Hartford's share of the payment in lieu of taxes — about $13.5 million — to education cost sharing, as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget proposal recommended.
The mayor said he also has a plan to address the $9.4 million deficit the city is facing this year, brought on largely by money owed to the city treasurer for pension contributions that was not built into the adopted budget. The gap will be offset by reductions in debt payment, refinancing of bonds and delaying hiring for vacant positions. Department heads have been instructed to freeze spending wherever possible, he said.
City politicians said the budget should reflect the interests of residents and the business community. Several emphasized the importance of avoiding a tax rate increase.
"My top priority, which I conveyed to the mayor, was that we do not increase taxes," Council President Shawn Wooden, a Democrat, said Friday. "I think our city residents have felt the burden of our high mill rate and our business community has expressed concern at the city's mill rate."
"We can't raise taxes," added Michael McGarry, chairman of the Hartford Republican Town Committee. "With all of our empty offices, we need to come up with a better way of doing business. We need some kind of legislative action to change our tax system."
Councilman Larry Deutsch, a member of the Working Families Party and the panel's minority leader, said the mayor's requests for more union concessions would likely be met with resistance from council members.
"The mayor seems to forget that some unions, like [AFSCME] Local 1716, took furlough days this year," he said. "The unions have already given back enough. I would like to see unnecessary spending [come] under better control."
Segarra will present his budget Monday at city hall.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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