Residents discuss mayor’s budget

Gary Doyens, a 54-year-old Westville resident with two children, has started to cut back because of the economic downturn, driving in an old car and telling his children no.

Now he wants the city to scale back, too. “I will have to do to my family what the city won’t do to itself,” Doyens said.

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Doyens and other residents nearly filled City Hall’s aldermanic chambers Wednesday night to hear Mayor John DeStefano Jr. discuss his fiscal year 2010-’11 budget proposal with local residents for the first time since he announced it Monday. And they had plenty to say.

With DeStefano’s budget featuring a 2.6 percent spending increase and a 6.1 percent increase in taxes, some residents said he is placing a burden on residents who are already struggling in the tough economy. And even though DeStefano has made two rounds of city layoffs, other residents said he should look for cuts in City Hall.

The budget briefing, held by the aldermanic finance committee, is the first of three briefings the mayor will hold to discuss the budget in the community. DeStefano defended his budget to local residents a day after traveling to Hartford to push for no cuts in state funding to municipalities.

During his presentation, DeStefano’s budget, totaling $670 million, includes $8 million in proposed cuts across city departments.

But Ward 6 Democratic Town Committee Co-chair Helen Martin-Dawson said she hopes the mayor’s proposals are “not written in stone.” The property taxes are too high, she said. Christine Bishop, 37, a member of the city’s Financial Review and Audit Commission, which is in charge of reviewing the city’s finances, said the mayor is not doing enough to address financial challenges the city is facing now. Her fellow commission member Jeffrey Kerekes said he thinks the city needs to “control the expenses side of the budget” and look at how to “run the city with less people.”

DeStefano acknowledged that there could be hardships for residents, but he said that while the city could decide not to fill police and fire department positions and not to increase the budget for city schools, he thinks such measures would hurt the city.

The next briefings will be held March 10 at Edgewood Magnet School and March 23 at the Nathan Hale School.

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