City administrators met with alders at City Hall on Wednesday night to present budget proposals for their departments, which combined will constitute the city’s complete budget for the 2017–18 year.
Wednesday’s meeting was the second of four budget workshops that the city will host as officials work toward finalizing this year’s budget, as 13 departments were slated to present their proposals to the approximately one dozen alders present. The first workshop on March 16 involved presentations from 19 other city government branches, and the next two workshops will take place on April 6 and April 20.
Though some proposals on Wednesday went over well, others were met with questions and objections from alders, revealing disconnect between different arms of the city government at this stage of the budget planning process.
Some of the alders present at the meeting, notably Ward 16 Alder Alphonse Paolillo Jr., had qualms with the Community Services Administration’s proposal. Paolillo said he was concerned that the CSA was asking for increased funding to run services for homeless residents while not using money left over from previous years, and that the department did not have any specific plans for how potential new money would be used. He explained that hazy plans could result in misallocations of resources.
“My worry is that you don’t understand what you’ve been allocated,” Paolillo said. “You have no plan for what’s already been borrowed.”
Paolillo explained that the CSA received funding years ago that it has yet to use. He expressed frustration that the city supplied the CSA with money and that city officials were met with “radio silence” instead of an allocation plan. Paolillo requested that CSA Administrator Martha Okafor and her team draft a new plan to present to the alders at a later date.
Okafor, who presented the proposal to alders on Wednesday, said her department had several possible plans for how it would use the money it requested, such as renovating the Columbus House homeless shelter, which houses over 200 residents. She added that she did not want to commit prematurely to one course of action, but that there was a good chance the CSA would find a use for the money.
Okafor emphasized that her department did not know how much some of the plans currently under consideration would cost, and that she did not want to be left strapped for funds. Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa advised Okafor to obtain estimates for the costs of renovations and other projects so that her team could more accurately pin down those costs in the future budget.
She also revealed that The Escape, a community center and homeless shelter planned to open in the Dixwell neighborhood, was not yet open, despite the fact that city officials expected the project to be ready around the beginning of this year. She said more renovations had to be done to prepare the property, which was previously used as a recreational facility by Bethel AME Church, for its new purpose.
The proposal of the Public Health Administration was met with fewer questions from alders. PHA administrators revealed that their department had run a surplus for the second straight year and that, although most of the city’s medical facilities were fully staffed with nurses, multiple vacant nurse positions remained. Ward 18 Alder Sal DeCola asked PHA administrators to fill these positions over the next year, and stressed the importance of having competent nurses available for residents. The proposal the PHA presented on Wednesday did not include funding for the vacant positions.
“We spend money on many things, but we should be spending money on nurses,” DeCola said.
Next up, city officials will host a public hearing at James Hillhouse High School at 6 p.m. tonight where alders present will hear testimony from the public about the budget proposal.