Although the New Haven Board of Aldermen began the year by inaugurating 13 new members, city leaders said they expect the issues the Board focuses on to remain largely unchanged.
While the high level of turnover on the 30-member Board leaves its members without committee assignments as they prepare for their second meeting of the year, the highest-ranking players in City Hall — including Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Aldermanic President Jorge Perez — are the same. Both Perez and DeStefano said they expected the city government to focus its attention on issues like economic development, creating a balanced budget and the expected reconsideration of an initiative that would grant domestic partnership rights to same-sex couples.
Yet with city officials projecting that state aid — which makes up more than half of the city’s revenues — will not increase significantly this year, city leaders also said New Haven’s fiscal situation will remain tight. Although DeStefano and other aldermanic leaders said they did not expect the city to again run a deficit, Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt, who served as chairman of the Finance Committee last term, said the city would likely need to increase property taxes and delay hirings.
“I really can’t see — us not raising taxes,” Voigt said. “When they cut revenue from the state, they are going to hurt the city.”
Despite the decreased level of state aid, DeStefano has said City Hall’s agenda will be directed toward support for middle class families, with efforts to improve education, community policing and the availability of affordable housing.
“We will do all that we need to do — to continue to make investments that support the ability of families to become middle class and to stay solidly middle class,” DeStefano said in his inaugural address on Jan. 1.
Perez, who is in his third term as president of the Board, said affordable housing will be one of the city’s top priorities during the next year. Both Perez and DeStefano said the city would direct its efforts toward increasing the availability of housing as well as reclaiming empty lots throughout the city.
“The city for several years has been gentrifying, and it’s reached the point where $40,000 can’t buy you housing in downtown New Haven,” Perez said.
Yet while the Board — which includes 28 Democrats, one Green and one Republican — is likely to be relatively united on issues like housing and education, its members are much more divided on the domestic partnership initiative, which failed by one vote last year.
The mayor, who supports the initiative, said last week he was hopeful the measure would pass and that its supporters on the board were trying to shore up support for the legislation before introducing it. But Perez, who opposes the initiative, said it was difficult to predict whether the measure will pass when it is introduced again this year.
“People made a big issue that it lost by only one vote, but it lost by one vote 10 years ago,” Perez said.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, who introduced the domestic partnership initiative last year, said supporters are planning a public forum about the legislation for Feb. 21. He said he will likely co-sponsor the measure along with several colleagues after the forum.