Occupy New Haven organizers continue to protest what they perceive as corporate America’s costs to society, but over the past several months, the demonstration’s presence on the Green has handed a hefty tab to city taxpayers.
Since the protest movement began last October, city officials said they have spent over $60,000 in overtime compensation for police officers ensuring that the protest remains safe. The city also pays $1,900 per month to to supply portable toilets and garbage removal services for organizers. Additional costs as a result of the protest have not yet been calculated, including the cost of rehabilitating the Green whenthe occupiers eventually leave. Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s office defended these taxpayer expenses, citing individuals’ rights to peaceful protest and the importance of accommodating free speech.
“The Green has a 374-year tradition for being a place where people assemble and exercise free speech,” said Elizabeth Benton ’04, spokeswoman for DeStefano. “We are proud to see that continue.”
New Haven is not alone in shouldering unforeseen expenses as a result of the Occupy movement. New York City alone has spent nearly $6 million on costs related to Occupy Wall Street, Philadelphia has spent $500,000 on police overtime alone, and Portland, Ore. officials estimated $750,000 in expenditures on repairing park damage and police overtime.
The city has not yet begun to investigate what the cost of repairs to the Green will be when Occupy New Haven comes to an end, said Christy Hass, deputy director for New Haven’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees.
Paul Perrotti, president of Perco Landscaping, said that he is familiar with the size of the Occupy New Haven camp on the Green and estimates that the total repair costs will be under $10,000. He added that the soil will likely need mechanical aeration, renewed grass seeding and fertilization, and root fertilization near any trees due to the site’s tents and protesters’ foot traffic.
Beyond the police overtime and sanitation expenses, city officials said that the Occupy movement has led to other ongoing expenses that are more difficult to calculate. For instance, Benton said, the New Haven Fire Department regularly inspects the Occupy campsite, as fire department officials have the final say as to whether the protest is safe to continue. There is no explicit figure for how much money these inspections cost, she said. Benton added that fire department officials have recently been concerned about the safety of gas-fueled heating devices used in Occupy camps around the country. Such heaters caused the death of one Occupy protester in Salt Lake City through lethal carbon monoxide poisoning, she said.
New Haven’s costs are small compared to those in larger cities, but with municipal budgets tight across the nation, the figures have sparked mixed reactions among New Haven residents. Some find the costs unjustified while others said all peaceful protests should be encouraged.
“Cities can barely afford to pay teachers and firefighters,” said Peter O’Hare, a city resident. “Taxpayers should not be asked to pick up the tab for a protest that will go on indefinitely.”
Mike Stern, another resident, said city officials need to consider whether the money spent on protest-related costs could be put to better use.
The Occupy New Haven protest began on Oct. 15..