For the second straight evening, city officials came before the Board of Alders’ Finance Committee to make their cases for their requested levels of funding in Mayor Toni Harp’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017.
Though most changes from last year’s budget are minimal, several departments are asking the alders to increase their funding. But with Gov. Dannel Malloy proposing drastic cuts to the state’s budget and purses tightening in New Haven, the specter of a tough fiscal year hung over Wednesday evening’s workshop. While dates for finalizing the budget have not yet been set, the alders must vote on a budget before July 1 — the beginning of the new fiscal year.
The City Plan Department was the first to present its request to the alders. Executive Director Karyn Gilvarg said the department is asking for two new positions: a legal secretary and an urban design coordinator. If approved, those two new positions would bring the department’s staff size up to 10. Gilvarg said the legal secretary would increase the department’s capacity to deal with city plan work.
“If we had in-house someone who could greet the applicant and work with the applicant, that would free up the professional staff to do things that would lead to a bigger and better New Haven,” Gilvarg told the alders. “To do the things that I think are most important and would touch constituents more, and would lead to better growth for the city, these positions would be an enormous help.”
Westville Alder Adam Marchand GRD ’99, who sits on the City Plan Commission, noted the city has recently completed its decennial Comprehensive Plan of Development. He asked Gilvarg why the completion of that report has not freed up staff to work on other projects.
Gilvarg responded that while completion of the development plan’s report has freed up staff, projects concerning hazard mitigation and flood insurance now occupy most of their time. A legal secretary, she said, may serve as the department’s receptionist and allow creative minds to flourish. In response to a question from Annex Alder Alphonse Paolillo Jr., Gilvarg said she would prioritize the legal secretary position over the urban design coordinator.
Gilvarg noted that the department had an urban design coordinator until 2010, when the position was phased out after a retirement. She described the proposal before the alders as “restoring” the position to the department.
Other requests for increased staffing came from the Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking. Doug Hausladen ’04, the department’s director, said the request for five new part-time crossing guards — at $5,500 apiece — at the city’s schools will go a long way toward improving children’s safety on their walk to school.
“They’re fairly inexpensive when it comes down to it, but their value is invaluable,” Hausladen said. “We do not currently have one crossing guard per school, but five new crossing guards will bring us a lot closer. $5,500 is pennies on the dollar for the value that these crossing guards provide.”
The alders also had street safety on their minds. Fair Haven Alder Ernie Santiago questioned why the department is painting green bike lanes across the city while his ward still has an inadequate number of crosswalks. The lack of crosswalks makes traveling around the neighborhood unsafe, he said. As a result, he added, he has received many complaints from his constituents.
East Rock Alder Anna Festa agreed. She said street safety is a crucial issue, especially in her ward, where many children walk to school instead of taking buses.
“We have an issue with traffic control and I think it needs to extend past [the Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking], what needs to be done,” Festa said. “Before a child or pedestrian actually gets killed, we need to look further than just crosswalks … Striping the streets is just not enough, in my opinion. And that’s a complaint that I get a lot from my constituents.”
Hausladen said his department has allocated $125,000 for constructing safe routes to school. He said his department is working to ensure every second grader in New Haven has a class on transportation safety. The department is working with local parent-teacher associations to make that possible, he added.
Hausladen said the painted bike lanes are mostly covered by federal grants, and the city spends its $100,000 allocation for nonannual pavement markings quickly.
According to members of the Committee on Equal Opportunities — a commission that works to ensure women and minorities are hired for city contracts — the staffing situation is more dire. Lil Snyder, the interim CEO chief, said the commission started with five employees, but attrition means it will soon be left with only two. She said acceptance of the proposal would rejuvenate the department.
“We know that you’re looking at a very difficult budget, and we know that our finances are difficult, but at the same time, the office is experiencing also a very difficult situation,” Snyder said. “We are out of special funds. Right now, we’re at a point where we’re asking you to help us out. Quite honestly, I don’t know how we would be able to function without the proposal that’s before you.”
Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81 said the commission has played a major role in ensuring residents are employed in the city’s building projects.
But budget realities could not be avoided. Festa asked Snyder to submit to the alders a prioritization list of the eight positions the commission is requesting. Both the city and the state, Festa said, are “in a real bind.”
The alders will continue their scrutiny of the mayor’s proposed budget on April 7 in Augusta Lewis Troup School.