The Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee entered the debate over the mayor’s proposed budget at a meeting Tuesday, questioning whether some of the planned budgetary increases for 2007-’08 are necessary.
John Buturla, the mayor’s chief administration officer, told the aldermanic committee that the increases in this year’s budget proposal are largely due to the hiring of 14 new police officers, an extra $6.7 million to pay off outstanding debts, and a $3.3 million expansion in medical benefits for city employees. The increases represent a 7.1 percent or $29.5 million rise compared to last year’s final budget. Buturla said the city expects to cover the new spending with an additional $12 million in tax revenue, an additional $15 million in state revenue and $8.2 million in total revenue from building permits.
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But several committee members said some of the proposed increases might be overestimated or unnecessary and that the city’s rising expenses will be unsustainable in the long-term.
Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez said that while the budget proposal includes the hiring of new police officers, it also calls for an additional $500,000 to cover increased overtime payments for the police, a combination that does not make sense. He said the city should look very closely at the need for the increased costs and expansion of some city departments, such as the Economic Development Department and Department of Finance, both of which are proposing to hire new staff.
“We really need to start counting the pennies,” he said. “I would like those departments to come and tell us why they really need this new position.”
Perez also said the city is relying too heavily on short-term sources of revenue, such as building permit payments. He said that while there are currently a significant number of large-scale building projects, including the Yale-New Haven Cancer Center and the Shartenberg project, revenue from building permits will fall in a few years. The city should cut back on its expenses now, he said, and invest some of the revenue from building permits so that it will not face a large budgetary crunch in a few years’ time.
But city administrators said they forecast building permit revenue to remain high next year.
Buturla said many of the budget’s shortfalls this year come from a reduction in the share of state revenue set aside for the Elm City in Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s budget. New Haven has received a 9.2 to 9.5 percent share of the state’s allocation to cities during the last five years, but the city is now down to an 8.5 percent share, which equates to a loss of more than $20 million in revenue, he said.
“For some inexplicable reason we are down to 8.5 percent,” he said.
Ward 13 Alderman Alexander Rhodeen said the only long-term solution to the city’s budgetary problems is to increase the municipality’s grand list — the total value of taxable property in the city.
“We must simply grow the grand list,” he said. “That’s the only way to give ourselves increased financial footing.”
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. unveiled the $445.2 million budget at a press conference Thursday. The Board of Aldermen will continue its work on the budget before voting on a final version.