On the ground: City departments fight for funds

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As the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee works to finalize budget allocations, city department leaders are pleading for additional dollars.

The Finance Committee convened Monday night in City Hall to hear testimonies from city departments concerning their budget requests for fiscal year 2009-’10. Representatives from the departments approached the committee to highlight their respective achievements and persuade the committee to alleviate their budgetary woes. Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, the most vocal finance committee member at the meeting, drew sharp lines between full funding and subsidization, carefully scrutinizing pleas for additional support from the mayor’s budget.

Tim Larson, the executive director of Tweed New Haven Regional Airport predicted a late-September to early-October finish date for construction projects on Tweed. In a split vote last week, the city approved the additional $160,000 requested by the Airport Authority (in addition to the $550,000 received last year) to restore two-thirds of the budget decrease subsidized by the city. But depending on future funding, Larson said, Tweed would be able to carry patrons to their current most popular destination, Orlando, Fla., as well as add flights to Washington, D.C., Chicago and Charlotte.

Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy also voiced strong support for the airport expansions and increased city involvement: “We have a once-in-a-generation solution that’s been eluding us for a long time,” she said.

But it was clear from the meeting that the finance committee would be discerning with all proposals.

“Don’t give me that,” Perez said in reply to Murphy. The increased contribution to Tweed, he said, “is truly a subsidy. The people who use it should pay for it … This would be great for the city, especially if we don’t have to subsidize it.”

Other organizations, including the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament, also advocated for budget increases.

Tournament Director Anne Worcester highlighted the ways the Pilot Pen tournament contributes to the city: economic impact, community tennis programs and publicity for New Haven.

“The city’s involvement can be viewed as a stimulus package,” she said, noting that, despite the $4.5 million to $9 million required to put on the nine-day tournament, the program brings jobs and taxes to the city. It also brings media attention: It was featured in the travel section of USA Today last March as one of the “10 great places to indulge your love for tennis” — right next to Monte Carlo and Wimbledon.

Murphy later advocated for continued construction projects on behalf of the Cultural Affairs Office in areas like Whalley and Grand avenues. Just last year, she said, 18 businesses relocated to Grand Avenue.

In response to a presentation by Shubert Theater Executive Director John Fisher, Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah emphasized that providing extra financial assistance to the Shubert was not the same as subsidizing it, since the theater operates on city-owned land. The city gave the Shubert Theater $260,000 last year, down from $410,000 in 2007.

Fisher said that for every dollar the city invests in the theater, $15.20 is generated in return through theatergoers patronizing other city restaurants and retail.

The Public Health, Elderly Services and Youth Services departments also presented Monday night. But Perez and other aldermen did not make any promises with dollar signs attached.

“I realize that everyone’s going to have to do more for less,” said Perez, who opposed subsidies to both the Shubert and Tweed Airport.

The committee is expected to finalize its budget proposal by June.

Comments

  • Perez is wrong on this

    I'm a Yale student who lives too far away to drive. Currently, Tweed is convenient, but very expensive. The only city that it flies to is Philadelphia. This lack of supply drives prices up, so many in the area, including myself, resort to Bradley, La Guardia, and JFK.

    It is obvious that a functioning airport with reasonably priced flights spurs economic development, and the city has a great deal to gain by investing in Tweed. If the city pays for Tweed, people who use Tweed will spend more money in the city. If the city doesn't pay for Tweed, people will spend less money in the city. Perez should recognize this.