Mayor John DeStefano Jr. unveiled a $445.2 million budget for the next fiscal year Thursday, complete with a new city department and “dramatic” public safety improvements.
At a City Hall press conference to introduce the new budget, DeStefano called for public safety measures, the establishment of a new department for youth services, the creation of two new schools and a property tax freeze for all senior citizen households. The budget — nearly $30 million more than the 2006-’07 budget — will now be negotiated and tweaked by the Board of Aldermen, possibly for months on end.
“It’s a fair budget that will improve the quality of life of people in New Haven,” he said, adding in a press release that the “budget will continue New Haven’s progress while being fiscally responsible to our taxpayers.”
During the conference, DeStefano criticized Connecticut policies several times. He said in an interview that Yale, which contributes about $6 million to the city’s annual budget under one of the largest voluntary contribution programs in the country, may be less willing to expand its operations if the state cuts the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program for colleges and hospitals.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the state is cutting the Payment in Lieu of Taxes programs for colleges and hospitals, because it creates a disincentive to grow Yale,” DeStefano said. “To cut the incentive for the largest research institution in the state to grow is bizarre.”
The plan specifically calls for hiring 14 new police officers for 2008, which would make New Haven’s police force the largest in the state. In the most recent recruiting cycle, the NHPD fell short of its original goal of hiring 40 new officers. Some aldermen have questioned how the city will be able to afford as many new officers as are hoped for.
Many city officials interviewed said the most important issue in the budget is public safety. John Buturla, DeStefano’s chief administration officer, who is responsible for all public servants, said the police and fire departments were challenged to collaborate in their recruiting efforts in the hopes of increasing numbers.
“The mayor has challenged us and the city administration to improve public safety,” Burturla said. “We see growth in both police and fire that will [allow us to] improve how we do business here in the city.”
DeStefano said most of the newly hired police officers will fill internal roles, working, for example, to enhance the deployment systems.
In order to finance the budget, the city plans to draw upon $12 million in new tax revenues and $15 million in projected state aid. Since the latter figure will change once the state finalizes its budget, amendments to the city budget will have to be made to reconcile discrepancies, City Budget Director Lawrence Rusconi said.
The decision to add a new Youth Department came after months of Board of Aldermen meetings held to discuss new youth programs and to hear how city children feel about the role of the government and schools. As part of his proposed budget, DeStefano said he will place nine Open Schools, the new mentoring initiative and summer job opportunities under the jurisdiction of the department. He also said he will increase the Board of Education budget by $5 million, part of which will fund the construction of new schools, including a math and science magnet school in partnership with the University of New Haven.
Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield declined to comment on the budget because he has not yet had the chance to examine its details, but he said there is a large demand for new youth programs.
“I know that … there’s a consensus that we need to do more for our youth, and we have to have better youth programs,” Goldfield said. “That is going to cost us some money.”