The Board of Alders Finance Committee on Tuesday night held a budget workshop to look at portions of the city budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins on July 1. The committee heard testimony from city departments, including the City Plan Department and the Commission on Equal Opportunity, as well as from leaders of Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport and the Connecticut Open tennis tournament, which both depend on the Elm City for economic support.
There is consensus among city officials that this budget has been one of the most difficult to draft in recent years, largely because of decreased state aid and lost revenue in areas like building permit fees. Mayor Toni Harp’s proposed budget — which she submitted to the Board of Alders on March 1 — calls for an 11 percent property tax hike, cuts to the rainy-day fund and concessions from municipal employees.
But an 11 percent tax hike could hurt New Haven residents. Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth ’90 LAW ’94 told the News less than a week after the mayor’s budget proposal announcement that she had already started to hear concerns about the tax increase from constituents. Now, over the course of discussions expected to last until May, the Board of Alders is combing through each portion of the budget in an effort to cut spending and squeeze out more revenue.
“Every year, the proposed budget must articulate the city’s dedication to provide essential services in the form of public safety, public education and economic development, often in the face of dire needs elsewhere,” Harp wrote in the opening statement of her budget.
At the meeting, Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison noted that almost every city department has to get a “haircut” in funding this year. But she added that the Board of Alders still has to ensure it supports the city’s youth and seniors.
Anne Worcester, the Connecticut Open’s tournament director and the head of Market New Haven, testified on behalf of both organizations. For the tennis tournament, she noted, 3 percent, or $100,000, of the tournament’s annual budget comes from New Haven, but the competition provides the city $10 million in benefits through economic stimulation in the Elm City, according to an economic impact study the Open administered in collaboration with the University of New Haven.
Worcester acknowledged that the city is having a “very difficult year” with the budget. But when asked about expanding the festival to the larger New Haven area, she noted that she cannot both accept funding cuts and add festivals to her to-do list.
“I sell sponsorship for a living, and it has never been harder,” Worcester said, discussing her search for outside funding for the Connecticut Open.
Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport is another organization that receives substantial funding from the city. However, uncertainty over whether the airport will manage to overturn a state statute and extend its runway has drawn a fearful response from the alders.
When Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa specifically asked how failure to extend the runway would affect the airport, airport Executive Director Tim Larsen said he believes not extending the runway length could prevent the airport from offering commercial service.
Festa said losing the commercial service at Tweed-New Haven could lead to larger problems for the city, as the federal government requires New Haven to have the airport service. But Larsen said he has had “very good” discussions with both state leadership and the business community and will know by the end of May whether the state’s General Assembly will pass a bill that overturns the state statute limiting the runway.
City organizations such as the Commission on Equal Opportunities, the City Plan Department and the Office of Building Inspection and Enforcement also face cuts — by 2 percent, 6 percent and 2 percent, respectively. And those cuts could hinder the effectiveness of the departments involved.
Angel Fernandez-Chavero ’85, acting interim executive director of the Commission on Equal Opportunities, noted that the tighter budget may prevent the commission from fulfilling all its responsibilities, especially when it comes to civil rights complaints.
As the City Plan Department is responsible for planning and designing capital improvements, proposing and reviewing housing and development, and maintaining environmental clearance, the budget cuts could hinder the department’s future development plans.
The next budget hearing will be open to public testimony and take place on April 4.
Ashna Gupta | firstname.lastname@example.org