Mayoral candidate Marcus Paca dug into the latest plan for the city’s budget at a public hearing at Hillhouse High School on Thursday night, calling the plan wasteful and unfair to the city’s taxpayers.
In a speech, Paca said he was alarmed by what he heard at budget talks that took place at City Hall the day before, during which many heads of city departments had requested additional funding in the upcoming fiscal year. He argued that it was irresponsible for the city to increase spending and to expand programs given the possibility of large funding cuts to the city from state and federal government.
“Pet projects are costing the city upwards of half a million dollars, and there are no plans for the new money,” Paca told the News. “We need to cut wasteful spending and be better stewards of taxpayers’ money.”
Paca, who announced his candidacy in early February, spoke critically of city leaders’ propensity to approve plans that allot more money to branches of city government that do not necessarily need more funding, such as the Community Services Administration. He said that this department and others are asking for more city funding even though they have funds left over from previous years and no concrete plans for the money that they already have or that which they are seeking.
At a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, chief administrator of the CSA Martha Okafor said her department did indeed have a reason for holding on to pre-existing funds and a plan for the new funds it was requesting. She said the CSA was working on several long-term, large projects and that the administration planned to use these funds to finance these expensive projects when the time came to pay for them. She said, for instance, her department is working on relocating the Emergency Shelter Management Services homeless shelter, and plans to use its reserves and additional funds to build and furnish a new shelter sometime in the near future.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer defended department leaders who, like Okafor, are asking for additional funding while reserves from past budgets remain.
“The previously allocated funding is not standing idle,” Grotheer said. “Sometimes it takes a while for elements of a project to come together before the money is actually spent, but the allocation allows for preliminary work to go forward.”
But Paca said he disagrees with Okafor and Grotheer’s vision of how projects in the city should be financed. He said instead of taking the lead on large-scale community projects, the city government should look to New Haven’s robust nonprofit sector to take the lead on financing these projects. City government is responsible for creating an “environment of growth,” he said, but not for financing growth out of taxpayers’ pockets, especially when the city and state are scrambling to close large budget deficits.
In the case of the ESMS Shelter, he said the city should help nonprofits identify where the shelter can be relocated and facilitate the building process instead of paying for a new building.
Paca said that cutting duplicative, nonessential service contracts and slimming down mayoral chauffeuring and security could save the city over $100,000. He also said that if elected, he would encourage developers to take up projects in parts of the city farther from Yale’s campus and would work to reorient the city’s education system to prepare students for jobs in New Haven’s growing biotech market. He said it was important for students in New Haven to have access to the new job opportunities in the city.
The city hopes to approve a final budget by early summer.