The Board of Alders met Thursday to preliminarily approve a portion of Mayor Toni Harp’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 at a Board Joint Community Development and Human Services Committee meeting.
The committee tentatively affirmed the city’s spending under the Consolidated Action Plan, a community development spending program largely funded by federal Community Development Block Grants. But the approval was not without modifications. Before the meeting, four committee members met hastily to add an amendment requiring the city’s Small Business Service Center and Small Contractor Development Program to provide quarterly updates on their spending and performance.
The alders were positive in their deliberations on the Consolidated Plan spending. Fair Haven Alder Santiago Berrios-Bones said the Human Services Committee has the ability to affect residents’ lives more directly than most other branches of city government.
“I find that Human Services has a particular opportunity to give something back to the community in a very straight way,” Berrios-Bones said. “Giving money to the community is a wonderful thing — it doesn’t have to wait until everything is approved years from now. It’s something that’s almost instantaneous.”
Beaver Hills Alder Brian Wingate noted that Thursday’s meeting was the culmination of a long process of determining the level of community development spending, involving numerous committees across city government.
The alders’ amendment to the motion, read by Amity Alder Richard Furlow at the beginning of the meeting, will mandate that the Small Business Service Center and Small Contractor Development Program — city programs that focus on improving New Haven’s economy and making jobs available to residents — provide the alders with quarterly performance updates.
Some of the performance metrics align closely with trends in New Haven politics in recent years. One metric — the total number of private-sector jobs created and retained for New Haven residents — mirrors rhetoric from the alders, Harp and the UNITE HERE unions surrounding the city’s “jobs crisis.”
Budgetary issues are still at play, though.
Jackie James, director of the Small Business Service Center, told the alders at a Finance Committee meeting Wednesday that her department is currently severely understaffed — besides her, she said, the only other employee is an administrative assistant whose contract is due to expire on June 30. She said this severe level of understaffing could force the center’s doors to close. Hill Alder Dolores Colon ’91 said she was concerned the alders might be handing the department a request it cannot fully comply with.
Furlow said requiring the departments to submit reports to the alders is essential to protecting transparency.
“I think it’s good for us as a committee,” Furlow said. “As we’re giving out so much money, I believe this is going to help our credibility as we’re charting and tracking the money we’re giving out, especially to city agencies. I’m a little fearful that any department or agency would run without financial reports.”
Dwight Alder Frank Douglass Jr. agreed. He said upholding transparency in the city’s government is crucial to his constituents.
Alders have raised disputes with City Hall over failure to provide reports in the past. On Tuesday night, Annex Alder Alphonse Paolillo clashed with Mendi Blue, director of the Office of Development and Policy, over the department’s alleged failure to submit quarterly reports to the alders.
Other committees have also embraced the role of an oversight body that hears from departments about their progress. Wingate said, last month, that he would like to see the Youth Services Committee, which he chairs, hear testimony from the city’s youth services departments on their duties and operations. The first of those testimonies will take place next week, when the committee will hear from the directors of “The Escape,” a youth homeless center in Dixwell.
The motion to approve the funds passed the committee unanimously. The motion will appear before the full Board of Alders later this month for final approval.