Proposed budget focuses on safety reform

Public safety was at the top of New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s list of priorities Thursday evening as he presented his proposed 2008 budget to community members.

Addressing a diverse group of roughly 50 residents at the main branch of the New Haven Free Public Library, DeStefano discussed his proposed budget distribution for the 2008 fiscal year. In his presentation, he said he wants to increase policing and reform the New Haven Police Department, as well as increase funding for libraries, improve infrastructure and address quality-of-life issues like traffic. He also proposed efforts to save the city money by closing out school construction and restructuring health care for city employees.

Residents in attendance had mixed responses to the presentation, and Darnell Goldson, who plans to run for mayor in 2009, criticized DeStefano’s plans for what he called a lack of attention to public education.

The mayor spent the most time highlighting his plans to increase funding for public safety in light of a surge of shootings around New Haven.

“There is an increasing willingness to discharge weapons in front of police,” he said.

DeStefano said he hopes to reduce the threat of crime in New Haven through the Violence Reduction Initiative, under which the city would aim to hire 45 new police officers and up to 27 new firefighters over the next year.

DeStefano also pointed to a recent uptick in crime in explaining his request for a 7.29-percent increase in public-safety funding. Although overall crime decreased between 1990 and 2007, DeStefano said, there were 162 shootings in 2007, up from 118 in 2006.

The mayor also announced the close-out of school construction in New Haven, after about a decade of extensive school reconstructions, which provoked murmurs from the audience.

After the presentation, one teacher at James Hillhouse High School in attendance said she is worried that the mayor is not investing enough in the education system. She said many students are deprived of access to computers or research databases at home.

“I am here to express my disgust,” she said. “I do not understand what is going on.”

According to his presentation, DeStefano is allotting a projected $169,519,297, an increase of 2.08 percent from 2007, to the Board of Education. Between 2006 and 2007, the budget increased 4.19 percent.

The mayor also announced that the budget would provide funding for all four of the city’s public libraries. Earlier this week, DeStefano told the New Haven Register that closing the Stetson Branch Library was one option of several that the city was considering to close the budget deficit, prompting patrons of the library to circulate petitions to save it.

After the presentation, Goldson criticized the mayor for not devoting enough resources in his budget to public education. Education should be considered as much a priority as public safety, he said.

“The mayor should consider where he can make big cuts,” Goldson said in an interview after the meeting. “If you want to decrease the crime rate, you should improve the education system.”

But Esen Sefik ’09, who attended most of the meeting, said she is happy about the reinforced emphasis on public safety.

“Security at Yale is an important issue,” Sefik said. “I am pleased to hear that the necessary measures are being taken.”

Yesterday’s budget meeting was the first of four that DeStefano is planning to hold.

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