While he offered few new legislative proposals, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. provided a vision of a changing city as well as a call for reform in his annual State of the City Address last night.
Speaking before the Board of Aldermen at City Hall, DeStefano, while taking credit for improvements in the city over his 10 years in office, said New Haven faced continuing fiscal challenges due to stagnant growth in the city’s two major sources of funding: property tax revenues and state aid. In addition, DeStefano pledged to fight for reform in how the city’s corporations, nonprofits and government are operated.
“We need to get into other people’s business, other towns’ business, the state’s business and other businesses’ business,” DeStefano said. “We need to change how we and other people do business.”
DeStefano’s focus on reform came a week after he completed an agreement with New Haven Savings Bank (NHSB), ending his long-standing opposition towards the bank’s demutualization in return for its creation of a fund dedicated to the needs of low- and moderate-income residents.
“There are more than 18 people who can sit on Boards of Directors in New Haven — and we can find them,” DeStefano said.
Ward 9 Alderwoman Elizabeth Addonizio GRD ’06, a Democrat serving her first term on the board, said she was pleased to hear the mayor focus on his goals for corporate reform in his address.
“I think that reform often starts at the grassroots and trickles up,” Addonizio said. “To the extent that we can tackle corporate governance issues in New Haven, I think we’re leading the way and that’s positive.”
Referring several times to Yale political science professor Douglas Rae’s recent book “City: Urbanism and Its End,” DeStefano placed the city’s challenges in historical context, explaining how economic and social changes had transformed the Elm City. Although DeStefano said he was pleased with the progress his administration has made in reducing crime, improving the city’s schools, and encouraging economic development, he said the city faced continued difficulties in raising enough money to satisfy New Haven’s fiscal needs.
While the mayor did not give any details of the budgetary outlook for the year, DeStefano said the city would need a program of “responsible fiscal stewardship” to avoid running a deficit for the second straight year. The mayor did not speak about any planned tax increases or budget cuts in his address, but he said afterward he expected the city would need to increase the property tax rate.
During the speech, the mayor said that the growth of tax-exempt property in the city required New Haven’s nonprofit institutions — of which Yale is the largest — to provide additional “Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes” to the city. After the speech, however, DeStefano said his comments applied to all of the city’s major nonprofits, not just the University.
“This is not just a Yale issue, and I will not demagogue Yale,” DeStefano said. “But you can’t ignore what’s happening to the Grand List [of taxable property].”
In response to the mayor’s remarks about tax-exempt institutions, Yale Associate Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said after the mayor’s speech that the University already makes significant monetary contributions to the city government.
“One nonprofit in New Haven already has been making a multimillion dollar payment to the city,” Morand said, referring to the $7 million in taxes, fees and voluntary payments the University makes each year to New Haven.
DeStefano also said the city needed to push for changes in the state’s tax structure, including the adoption of a series of recommendations made by a commission recently chaired by the mayor. But while DeStefano called for reform in both local and state campaign finance laws and pledged to advocate on behalf of city in Hartford, he made no mention of his previously-stated desire to run for governor in 2006.