During a budget workshop Tuesday evening, alders questioned city departments’ projected rising costs for the coming fiscal year.
The Board of Alders’ finance committee invited representatives from five city departments and four organizations to City Hall Tuesday for the second of five scheduled budget workshops. Departments appealed to the alders to maintain or increase funding allocated to their respective departments in Mayor Toni Harp’s budget proposal for the 2015–16 fiscal year. The workshop lasted three hours as city officials, including representatives from the invited departments, fielded questions from alders about specific line items in their budgets.
This year, the city’s capital budget — funds allocated for the improvement of the city and its departments — is $55.5 million, which is roughly $10 million more than last fiscal year’s capital budget. A significant portion of the increased cost in the 2015–16 budget is funding to pay the salaries for 23 new city employees across several departments.
Controller Daryl Jones, who spoke on behalf of the Finance Department, said that a city information technology director — one of the 23 proposed new positions — is essential for New Haven to take full advantage of new media. Jones added that he is currently overseeing the responsibilities of such a director.
“We have neglected IT for years,” Jones said. “I just cannot continue to do both jobs.”
Jones cited the Fire Department as a potential beneficiary of an IT director, adding that the department’s operations could be streamlined using new software to keep track of jobs and equipment.
East Rock Alder Anna Festa, who represents Ward 10, asked Jones whether the city could hire outside consultants to assume IT responsibilities. Jones said he thought consulting companies would not adequately address the city’s needs.
“I know there have been a lot of issues in the city because of hiccups in IT,” said Ward 9 Alder Jessica Holmes, who also represents the East Rock neighborhood. “I’m totally for an IT overhaul.”
Executive Director of the Fair Rent Commission Otis Johnson Jr. also expressed concern about understaffing in his department, which aims to control and eliminate excessive rents in the city. Harp’s proposal allocates funds for a new field representative on the commission.
Festa said the job description for such a representative was vague. She also proposed to Johnson that the city could hire a new Fair Rent Commission staffer on a part-time basis to cut costs.
“We don’t need such a big government for 130,000 people,” Festa said. “We have to make tough decisions.”
But Johnson continued to push for a new full time employee, citing that the position once existed in the commission but was eliminated 10 years ago. He added that he requested funding for a new employee in the majority of the last 10 budget proposals because his department has faced operational difficulties as a result of understaffing.
Representatives from the Registrar of Voters also requested the alders maintain the level of funding allocated to them in the budget proposal. They projected that, due to same-day registration, the number of registered New Haven voters would increase from 78,000 to 87,000 in the upcoming November election cycle. Moreover, they said they expect department costs to increase.
Board of Alders President and Hill neighborhood Alder Jorge Perez asked representatives from the registrar to explain why their overall cost was projected to increase $216,000 over one year. He specifically questioned the dramatic increase from last fiscal year in the department’s printing and binding costs from $25,000 to $110,000. The department representatives asked for more time to research and then answer Perez’s questions at a later date.
“To be honest with you,” Perez said. “I don’t think you guys are prepared.”
Representatives from the Finance Department also fielded questions about the city’s debt service — interest payments on long-term borrowing — and pension plan, both of which are significant costs in the city budget. East Shore Alder Alphonse Paolillo requested more information about the department’s plan to rebuild the pension fund.
The Corporation Counsel Office and the Disability Services department also spoke in front of the alders.