In an effort to widen the field in Elm City mayoral races, a Board of Aldermen committee took another step Monday night toward increasing the expenditure ceiling for candidates receiving funds through the city’s recently established Democracy Fund.

Under the revised ordinance that was unanimously passed by the Legislative Committee, the expenditure ceiling would be raised from $225,000 to $300,000 per candidate for a primary or general election. The board approved a resolution endorsing a public financing system for elections in 2005, and the full board must still approve this most recent ordinance before the change is implemented.

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New Haven is thus far the only municipality in Connecticut to have applied to the state to set up publicly financed municipal elections.

Worries that the original limit would encourage candidates to opt out of public financing prompted the proposal to increase the expenditure ceiling, said Rob Smuts ’01, deputy chief of staff for Mayor John DeStefano, Jr.

“Both the state and [New Haven] … really want people to participate in elections,” Smuts said during the meeting. “We need to have a reasonable limit so that people won’t say, ‘This is too low, I’m going to opt out of this.’”

If the ordinance is passed, the fund will be available for mayoral candidates in the 2007 election, Smuts said. DeStefano has already announced that he is running and plans to accept the matching funds, but other candidates have not yet come forward.

The ordinance would allow mayoral candidates to choose to accept matching funds from the city as long as their total campaign expenditures did not exceed $300,000 in a primary or general election. Only contributions from New Haven voters are eligible to be matched.

Since the $300,000 total includes the matching funds, candidates would most likely not receive more than $125,000 from the city, said Carl Amento, assistant corporation counsel to the city of New Haven. This estimate was determined with the assumption that some donations will not qualify to be matched.

The city proposed to allocate $200,000 in the fiscal year 2007 city budget to fund the program. Depending on the number of candidates in the election, the amount may stay the same for next year’s budget, Smuts said.

Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar, a member of the committee, said increasing the expenditure ceiling was the right move but questioned whether $300,000 might still be too low.

“My honest concern is that it won’t be enough,” Lemar said.

In the highly contested 2001 mayoral race, incumbent DeStefano and challenger state Sen. Martin Looney together spent $1.1 million, Smuts said. But he noted that this degree of competition does not occur every election cycle.

Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said he thought the amount was sufficient — at least for this year.

“Let’s get away cheap this year … and build up a bank for future years,” he said.

In addition to raising the expenditure ceiling, the revisions clarified the language in the ordinance to make it consistent with Connecticut’s campaign finance laws, Amento said. The original contained the “bare bones” of the law, but it needed to be fleshed out, he said.

The Connecticut General Assembly passed campaign finance legislation in December 2005 that allowed up to three municipalities in the state to take part in a pilot program for public financing of campaigns for locally elected positions. New Haven is the only city to participate in the program so far.