May 15th, 2014 | City

Proposed tax hike halved

As they near the end of a lively budget season, alders backed amendments to minimize Mayor Toni Harp’s proposed tax hike by flat-funding education and tweaking personnel costs, among other changes.

 Those amendments moved forward with the unanimous support of the 10 alders present at Wednesday evening’s finance committee meeting. As modifications to Harp’s $510.8 budget for the 2014-’15 fiscal year, they will be taken up by the full Board when it meets on May 27 to sign a new fiscal plan into law.

The amendments would reduce the tax increase from 3.8 percent to 1.8 percent — resulting in a rate of $41.5 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.  

 The savings come in assorted forms, from the elimination of vacant positions to the removal of an additional $1.5 million Harp had budgeted for the Board of Education. The changes were proposed by Board President Jorge Perez and co-signed by three of his colleagues.

Perez’s amendments also isolated a handful of sources of additional revenue. More Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) funds will bring in nearly $2 million, while building permits for Yale’s two new residential colleges will win the city another $2 million.

Perez stressed that the committee was acting independently of the mayor, whose administration did not give them permission to make these changes, he said. Perez sponsored a third amendment making minor modifications to personnel costs, including bringing back a tree trimmer eliminated in Harp’s budget. The committee also voted to clarify the purpose of a new capital projects “pay-as-you-go” account for leasing new equipment.

“I can only fix what I can fix today,” Perez said of his amendments and their limited effect on the city’s overall financial position.

The committee rejected further education cuts, despite the persistent efforts of Mike Stratton, alder for Prospect Hill and Newhallville. About a dozen amendments proposed by Stratton, all urging deep cutbacks in education spending, were either withdrawn or voted down eight to two. Only East Rock Alder Anna Festa voted with Stratton, who implored his colleagues to assert greater control over the Board of Education’s fiscal habits.

“We have the gold, and we’re acting like we’re impotent,” Stratton said. “We have the power, we’re just not exercising it.”

Stratton has seized on the fact that the city is funding education in excess of the statutory requirement to argue that the Board should scrutinize unitemized expenditures, demanding that the school district eliminate waste.

On Wednesday night, recognizing that his desired cuts would not see legislative approval, Stratton instead asked fellow alders to take up his concerns in committee work over the coming months.

Of Stratton’s litany of amendments, Hill Alder Dolores Colon ’91 offered this harsh assessment: “this is an exercise in wasting time.”

The 2014-’15 budget will take effect July 1.