The New Haven Board of Aldermen passed two resolutions Tuesday night, both motivated by a sense of urgency to batten down the financial hatches before the impact of the state and federal budget crises descend on the city.
In an effort to secure federal money granted to the city, the board passed a resolution that approved city takeover of $1 million in Empower New Haven, Inc. funds — that the city has pledged to match with $1 million of its own — to make cosmetic improvements to businesses in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. Empower New Haven, Inc. is the local branch of a federal community revitalization program created by the Clinton administration.
The move came as a result of a combination of two temporal concerns: an apprehension that the Bush administration might recall the already allotted federal funds and concerns over the extensive due process and time involved in distributing the funds through Empower New Haven.
The funds will be used to beautify the facades of storefronts in neighborhoods like Fair Haven, Dixwell and the Hill, which constitute the census tracts, or demographic areas, that make up the Federal Empowerment Zone, as specified in the late 1990s.
Ward 14 Alderwoman Robin Kroogman, who co-sponsored the piece of legislation with Ward 16 Alderman Raul Avila in a joint committee, praised the positive effect the combined $2 million would have on the city’s economically depressed areas.
“I think it’s a winning situation for the city,” said Kroogman, chair of the board’s Community Development Committee.
Ward 26 Alderwoman Lindy Gold lauded the proposed plans to improve the appearance of local businesses.
“With the city match, this program has really been an enormous success,” Gold said. “It’s positive, directly affecting neighborhoods in the city.”
But Ward 28 Alderman Brian Jenkins lambasted the plan, claiming the money would be better spent on the social welfare of the residents of those neighborhoods. He said he has no objection to improving the appearance of dilapidated storefronts but that “brick and mortar” are not as important as the people living and working in the buildings.
“We’re putting this money in a facade program instead of investing in the people,” said Jenkins, one of the very few in opposition to the plan. “I have serious problems with that.”
“I’m really appalled at the direction in which we’re using these funds,” he said, citing drug treatment, reassimilation for ex-convicts, and homelessness as more pressing priorities. “It’s horrible.”
Empower New Haven Inc. has received $21.9 million from the federal government in its four years of existence, falling short of projected totals because of budget problems and the lack of expected business support. It now has $3 million in its coffers awaiting approval for spending.
Directed by local figures in accordance with the original objectives set out by the plan to be wholly separate from local government, the board’s decision to hand over responsibility to the city is the first time municipal government has control of this special federal funding.
At last night’s meeting, the board also unanimously approved the agreement reached by the New Haven Board of Education and the New Haven Federation of Teachers through binding arbitration earlier this month.
The order was discharged from the Financial Committee of the Board, which would have been the initial step of the normal process of a total of three weeks of consideration, in the interest of meeting a Feb. 1 deadline.
The main features of the new three-year contract agreement include wages increasing annually between 4 and 5 percent and a medical benefits package that requires teachers to pay a larger share of the costs. The time it takes for a new teacher to earn the salary of a teacher on a higher step was also shortened.
The wage increases are better than those of other city unions, who received on average a 3 percent increase, but lag behind those of other teachers across the state who received on average a 5 percent wage increase each year. The new contract goes into effect July 1.
There is no “no-layoff clause” in the approved contract, leaving the door open for layoffs if the state budget crisis necessitates such a move to cut costs. This is the first time such a clause has been omitted from the teachers’ contract, a casualty of the arbitration process.
The Board also unanimously approved a resolution supporting Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro’s call for an investigation of the possible White House coercion in approving plans for the Cross Sound Cable Project.