New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. presented a budget to the city Monday that includes property tax hikes as well as $5.5 million in union concessions.
The mayor, who also announced 110 layoffs in the city’s school system effective July 1, said cuts of millions of dollars in state aid this year have forced the city to reduce its expenditures and raise taxes. In a letter he sent to the Board of Aldermen with his budget proposal, DeStefano criticized aid reductions at the state and federal levels that forced the city to make “painful decisions.”
“The state has made a series of poor long-term decisions that pass the budget problems caused by previous, unaffordable tax cuts onto working families and municipalities,” DeStefano wrote in the letter.
While DeStefano said the city would need to layoff another 250 workers if $5.5 million in union concessions are not negotiated with city employees’ unions, he characterized the city’s discussions with unions as “positive and encouraging” in a press conference Monday.
DeStefano also announced spending cuts that would affect city libraries, parks and recreation programs, and traffic and parking initiatives.
In response to reduced state aid — which accounts for over half of the New Haven budget — the proposed budget includes a $9.5 million increase in property tax revenue. DeStefano proposed a mill rate increase of 1.75, raising annual taxes by an average of almost $150 per household.
Yet because Gov. John G. Rowland has not yet introduced his state budget proposal for the next two years, the exact level of state aid next year remains uncertain. But the mayor’s budget proposal anticipates state aid remaining low, including almost $3 million less in state aid than last year’s budget.
The governor is expected to present his budget proposal today, only four days after signing a deficit-reduction proposal that resulted in across-the-board tax increases as well as reduced aid for municipalities.
“We’re still going to have problems, not because of New Haven, but because the state budget is out of control,” DeStefano said.
Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt, who serves as chair of the board’s finance committee, said the mayor had little choice but to present a budget with spending cuts and a tax increase.
“At this time, I don’t see that there is any other way we can go except to propose the 1.75 mill increase and possible reductions in the work force if we can’t get union concessions,” Voigt said. “It would be a lot simpler if the state came up with some money and we didn’t have to make some cuts.”
New Haven Public Schools spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo said the layoffs in the city’s schools follow earlier cuts in education spending.
“We’ve had a pretty draconian year,” Sullivan-DeCarlo said. “The superintendent has pretty much cut the nonpersonnel side of the budget to the bone.”
Of the 110 personnel who will be laid off, 50 are teachers who do not work in the classroom, 50 are other professionals who work throughout the school system, and 10 are administrators. While DeStefano said the city was determined not to fire classroom teachers, Sullivan-DeCarlo said the personnel reductions were particularly painful given recent improvements in the city’s schools.
Patricia Lucan, the president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, said that any increases in class sizes would result in “utter chaos” in the classroom. But she said her union’s executive board is currently unwilling to make any concessions to the city.
“If it means layoffs, that’s what it means and we’ll take it from there,” Lucan said.