Members of the Board of Alders’ Finance Committee sparred with City Hall officials on Tuesday evening over funding for the Mayor’s Office, in the first of the year’s workshops on Mayor Toni Harp’s proposed budget.
The Mayor’s Office has requested $1,144,978 for fiscal year 2017, a slight increase on the $1,128,818 budget approved by the Board of Alders last spring for fiscal year 2016. The increase of just over $16,000 comes from shifting a current part-time receptionist position to full-time. Chief of Staff Tomas Reyes Jr. told the committee that moving the position to full-time would obviate the need for the Mayor’s Office to rely on receptionists from other departments and would allow the Mayor’s Office receptionist to handle a heavier workload.
While committee members raised few objections to the proposal of the full-time receptionist, they questioned Reyes and Mendi Blue, director of development and policy, about the utility of the city’s spending on the Mayor’s Office, especially in the city’s grant-writing department.
“Since we have approved this new [grant-writing] position, I haven’t seen the number of these grants and all these different things … that this position was supposed to bring in,” Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison said. “Are we getting the best bang for our buck?”
Blue, whose job as director pays $116,000 annually, said the department has brought millions of dollars to New Haven through its grant-writing.
“The office has provided quarterly reports to [the Board of Alders],” Blue said in response to Morrison. “The office has either led or been actively involved in over $20 million worth of funding since its creation.”
Blue added that the grant-writing department has also assisted local nonprofits in securing tens of thousands of dollars in grant funding.
Annex Alder Alphonse Paolillo Jr. disputed Blue’s claim that the department had provided timely reports to the alders. He said although the department is required to submit quarterly reports to the alders, it has failed to do so at least once within one quarter of the department’s creation.
Paolillo raised concerns that grant-writing in the city’s administration had grown beyond the remit that the alders approved two years ago with the creation of the Office of Development and Policy.
“Part of the grant-writing piece, for us, where it becomes different from the discussion two years ago is that the police department now has a request for a grant-writer position,” Paolillo said. “Now we see other grant writers mysteriously popping up in other departments that are coming to us asking for them to be contracted full time.”
The meeting’s other major point of contention concerned the city’s information and technology department. Harp has proposed that the department, previously under the Department of Finance, be granted independent departmental status, with a new Chief Information Officer making an annual salary of $145,000. As the head of an independent department, the CIO would report to the mayor instead of the city controller.
City Controller Daryl Jones justified the salary as the sole means of recruiting a CIO competent enough to deal with the challenges of the role, noting that $145,000 is in fact below comparable salaries.
“Frankly, with $145,000, I’d like to attract somebody,” Jones said. “It’s very difficult. We will be very fortunate to attract somebody. Normally, a CIO position is around $250,000 to $300,000, given the size of our organization.”
East Rock Alder Anna Festa said she thought the $145,000 salary was too high — a salary-estimator website said $81,000 annually is the regional median for a position of that status.
For Westville Alder Adam Marchand, the connection between hiring an expensive new CIO and improving the city’s IT services was hard to fathom.
“One of the things that constituents have mentioned to me is that the city’s website is pretty archaic,” Marchand said. “I don’t know how hiring a $145,000 CIO is going to fix that more than hiring a $57,000 web developer.”
The Finance Committee will hold a second workshop on the city’s budget Wednesday evening in City Hall.