City residents find fault with budget plan

As the New Haven Board of Aldermen continues to review next year’s city budget, local residents spoke Monday night at a public hearing on issues ranging from parking ticket collection to fire department operations.

While the Board’s Finance Committee did not respond directly to most of the testimony given in the hearing, the public comments covered a wide array of concerns over the budget Mayor John DeStefano Jr. presented in March. The budget, which includes a property tax increase as well as $5.5 million in union concessions and layoffs, was introduced at the end of a fiscal year that saw the city’s first deficits since DeStefano took office in 1994.

Although DeStefano has said that he tried to limit service cuts in the budget, many of the citizens who testified emphasized the impact of cuts affecting a small number of positions in various city departments. Patrick Egan, president of New Haven Firefighters Local 825, said the reduction of positions within the fire department’s training academy and fire marshal’s office could have significant effects on the safety of New Haven residents.

In contrast to testimony given by Fire Chief Michael Grant last week, Egan said the removal of three positions within the training academy would provide few savings for the city once the department paid other firefighters overtime to provide mandatory instruction.

“If people are coming off the line, they’d have to be replaced to keep things operational,” said Egan, whose union is currently negotiating concessions with the city.

Egan also said the removal of inspectors within the fire marshal’s office could reduce the city’s ability to ensure that New Haven’s buildings are safe. He cited two recent incidents in Chicago and West Warwick, R.I., that killed dozens in nightclubs as situations in which proper fire inspections could have saved lives.

“When you read about the things that have happened, that’s what you always hear about,” Egan said. “Things are overlooked because there’s such a heavy workload.”

Several citizens who testified before the committee questioned the prudence — or even the legality — of the city’s plan to sell the right to collect parking tickets and fines to a private corporation. One resident, George W. Edwards, received applause from several others attending the hearing when he said he wanted to know whether the “shadowy hand” of Yale and private industry was behind the city’s new parking plan.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks, vice-chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said the Board needed to conduct further research before making any decisions on the parking proposal.

“We need some more information,” Jackson-Brooks said. “Numbers aren’t adding up: one person says we’re not going to save, another person says we are.”

But while some of the testimony concerned specific changes in city services, other residents spoke about the general implications of the budget.

Janet Tucker Jones, who said she recently lost her job as a nutritionist working with a city-affiliated Head Start program, said that the tax increases and layoffs included in the budget hurt the “little guys” in the city. She said the city’s efforts to aid businesses in attracting customers would have little value if job cuts continue.

“Who’s going to go into the stores to buy things?” Jones said. “No one, because there aren’t going to be jobs in New Haven.”

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