Citizens testify against DeStefano’s budget proposal

At a finance commitee meeting, residents testified about their concerns regarding Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year.
At a finance commitee meeting, residents testified about their concerns regarding Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Photo by Nick Defiesta.

At Thursday night’s finance committee meeting at a New Haven high school, residents came down hard against the city’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

At the meeting, held at Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy on Columbus Avenue, aldermen heard testimony from more than 20 city residents about Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s proposed $486.8 million city budget, which would increase the city’s spending by 2.4 percent over last year. Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said Thursday’s testimony raised concerns about the budget that had previously not come to the finance committee’s attention.

DeStefano’s budget rests on a $7.5 milion increase in property tax revenue. Property tax rates are based on real estate valuations conducted once every five years, and as a result, some neighborhoods will see increased taxes while others will pay less.

Bill Kaplan, an East Rock resident who would see his property taxes rise over 30 percent under the new budget, called the city’s property tax increases “unimaginably high.” In his testimony, Kaplan mentioned a neighbor who faced a 45 percent property tax increase. Though she lives in a large house, he said, she was recently widowed and her income is not in line with the property value of her home.

Kaplan added that the “exorbitant” tax increase would hamper the contributions of East Rock residents to the city’s economy.

“It’s like the city decides it needs to collect blood, so it opens a vein in its own arm,” Kaplan said.

The city is also proposing to relocate Hyde Leadership Academy — currently in a temporary location — adjacent to Hillhouse High School in the Beaver Hills neighborhood, a $41 million construction project. Benton said the proposed location for Hyde Leadership Academy was a cost-effective decision because the two schools could share outdoor and athletic facilities.

But at least six residents from Beaver Hills came forward to testify against the new school, saying it would eliminate communal green space in the neighborhood.

Robert Gibson, a retired teacher who worked at Hillhouse for 35 years, said the addition of another high school would also increase the traffic and police presence in his neighborhood. He said the city was pushing ahead with the proposal without consulting teachers, students or other members of the community.

“It is past time for the residents of New Haven to wake up and speak up,” Gibson said. “New Haven, for a city of its size, has too many schools. We think the plan is a burden on Beaver Hills that we will not tolerate.”

Benton, though, said Hyde Leadership Academy would be located adjacent to Hillhouse, and therfore would not infringe on the green space across from the school.

Ward 28 Alderwoman Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, whose ward is home to Hillhouse High School, said the proposal had not come to her attention until about two weeks ago, when she started receiving a flurry of calls from concerned residents. She invited them to speak during the meeting in order to inform other aldermen of the issue, she said.

Elicker said the testimony will play an important role in the committee’s final decision.

The finance committee is expected to release its own proposal for the city’s budget in May, at which point the full Board of Aldermen will vote on it.

Correction 4.21.12

An earlier version of this article misrepresented the conversion of the mill rate to property taxes.

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