City officials argued yesterday that a steady increase in New Haven’s population has led to understaffing in city departments. They called on alders to approve the staffing increases that Mayor Toni Harp proposed in her budget.
The finance committee of the Board of Alders hosted the third of five budget workshops in City Hall Wednesday, inviting representatives from the Community Services Administration and the health and finance departments. Consistent with concerns voiced at the previous two budget workshops and public hearings, the issues raised yesterday evening revolved around understaffing in city departments. The bulk of the workshop consisted of a two-hour conversation between the alders and the leaders of the Community Service Administration and Department of Health, which are requesting 11 of the 23 new positions outlined in Harp’s 2015–16 budget proposal.
“Our main concern is to serve the population of the city — both visitors and residents,” Community Services Administrator Martha Okafor said. “But we are operating with much less staff than we need based on the population.”
The city’s population — 130,741 according to a 2012 Census Bureau report — has seen a nearly 6 percent increase since 2000. The staffing in the CSA, which oversees both the city’s youth and elderly services departments, as well as Project Fresh Start, a prison re-entry program, ought to reflect the population, Okafor said.
The six new city employees requested by the CSA include a project coordinator and a receptionist for Fresh Start, a bilingual specialist in elderly services and a food policy manager — a position endorsed by several residents at the second budget hearing last week. The CSA is also requesting a data control clerk and a special projects coordinator to serve the department at large.
The clerk and special projects coordinator positions will be critical to the CSA, Okafor said. She added that the clerk would staff the CSA’s office, ensuring that all phone calls to the department are answered, and the special projects coordinator would work to expand the city’s youth map into a community map.
The New Haven Youth Map — championed by the alders’ Youth Services Committee Chair Sarah Eidelson ’12 — is an online tool that connects city youth with after-school and summer programs, such as a violence prevention initiative. Okafor suggested that with a new special projects coordinator, the CSA could work to create a similar platform for all city residents.
“We have a lot of resources in this city,” Okafor said. “But people do not know what we have or how to access it.”
Okafor specifically cited the city’s 367 nonprofit organizations as services that could be incorporated into the Community Map.
Ward 9 Alder Jessica Holmes, who represents East Rock, questioned the staff addition to elderly services, asking the division’s director Migdalia Castro what void the new employee would fill. Castro responded that, as a bilingual specialist, the new staff member would allow elderly services to reach the city’s Spanish-speaking community.
Paul Kowalski, acting director of the health department, which is requesting an 8.5 percent increase in its budget, said most of the new money would fund the department’s proposed addition of four new nurses to New Haven Public Schools and charter schools, as well as a new sanitarian for the city. Understaffing of medical professionals in New Haven’s schools was also an issue emphasized by residents at last week’s hearing.
“We heard the public loud and clear,” said Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa, who also represents the East Rock neighborhood. “People want full-time nurses at schools.”
Kowalski said the city had 40 nurses for its schools 10 years ago. Now, he said, the city has only 31 nurses, shared across all 53 schools. Even four more nurses would make a tremendous difference, Kowalski added.
Currently, eight of the 53 sites have full-time nurses. If approved, Harp’s budget proposal would allow the health department to add full-time nurses to as many as four more schools.