Aldermen begin budget planning

The Board of Aldermen’s finance committee met Thursday evening in City Hall to begin reviewing budget proposals from each city department for the coming fiscal year.

The 6:00 p.m. meeting was the first of four such workshops that will all occur in April. In the workshops, the finance committee is tasked with examining the budget proposals of each of the city’s 36 departments, eight of which testified about their proposed budgets at Tuesday’s meeting.

New Haven’s charter requires the city government pass a budget for fiscal year 2014 by June 1 of this year. In March, the mayor’s office released its budget plan for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1, and the finance committee is responsible for reviewing and potentially amending that plan before passing it along to the full Board of Aldermen for approval.

Because the Connecticut state government is considering reducing its grants to New Haven by tens of millions of dollars next year, the mayor’s budget proposal offers three different contingency plans in case of a shortfall, all of which include tax increases. The option based on the most optimistic assumptions about state funding calls for property tax hikes of 5.38 percent. Under the most pessimistic scenario, the mayor’s proposal would increase property taxes by 18.9 percent.

In March, Board of Aldermen president and finance committee member Jorge Perez said that any tax increases would be unacceptable.

“I think wherever possible we’re going to look for ways to save. That being said, it’s an uphill battle,” finance committee member Jessica Holmes said. Holmes called the potential state budget cuts “devastating.”

“It’s going to be a difficult year for budgeting for municipalities around Connecticut,” she added.

The city finance department, which reports regularly to the finance committee and is responsible for managing the city’s funds, was one of the departments that testified on Tuesday. Members of the finance department discussed not only their own budgetary needs but also the cost of servicing the city’s debt. In a finance committee briefing about the budget circulated at the meeting, the finance department explained its goal to maintain the current 98 percent tax collection rate in the city while increasing delinquincy payments, which would help shore up revenues.

Finance committee chair and Ward 4 Alderman Andrea Jackson-Brooks said that the departments reviewed at Thursday’s workshop “are by far the easiest.”

The next finance committee workshop to examine proposed departmental budgets will be on April 10.

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