Concerns about Mayor Toni Harp’s proposed 11 percent tax hike are on the Board of Alders’ minds as they continue to work on the city’s budget for the 2018–19 fiscal year.
The Board of Alders Finance Committee heard testimony during a budget workshop on Monday from the heads of several city departments, including the corporation counsel, chief administrators office and the public library, as well as from the departments of engineering, public works, parks and recreation and transportation. Several departments asked for increases in personnel spending while aiming to cut costs in other areas.
“We have to wage war every year,” Corporation Counsel John Rose, Jr. said.
Several alders expressed concern about the concessions that the city may have to make to several labor unions in this round of negotiations. The city is locked in negotiations with three unions, including Local 3144, which represents around 460 city employees in management and professional occupations. The period for negotiations with the fire department will open in July, but actual negotiations may not start until a month or two later.
Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa expressed concern that Harp promised concessions to some groups in ongoing and upcoming negotiations, but has not specified where exactly these concessions will go.
“I’m just looking for fairness,” Festa said.
The Corporation Counsel proposed a $100,000 increase in its allocation for outside law firms. Outside counsel often takes up a portion of lawsuits that involve the city and cases surrounding tax code. The Corporation Counsel has also consolidated $95,000 in legal allocations from other departments into its own budget.
According to Rose, 2018 is a tax appeal year, which occurs every five years. As a result, the department — which employs 21 people and has a proposed budget of $2.7 million — is currently handling several dozen cases and expects “several hard-fought” ones. Although the department’s former deputy has left, Rose expressed certainty that the department will not have to allocate more resources to outside representation than it has already allocated.
In opposition to these costs, other departments have found ways to eliminate unnecessary spending. For example, the American Medical Response — New Haven’s ambulance service — shared 25 employees with around 15 surroundings municipalities while shouldering all of the pension costs. Now, the department has negotiated to share the program’s costs with its partner towns.
In spite of new initiatives like a cafe opening in the New Haven Free Public Library, the library has proposed a $5.3 million budget for the year, compared to $5.9 million last year. Public Librarian Martha Brogan expressed frustration that the department has had to postpone projects for years because of limited funding.
In response, Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison voiced her appreciation and promised that, in conjunction with the public library’s planned expansion, it could expect more funding while the city plans for the 2019–20 fiscal year.
“I appreciate you taking into consideration the entire city, and not just totally focusing in on your shot and waiting your turn,” Morrison told Brogan.
The engineering department has also faced deep cuts, with funding decreasing from $15.7 million in last year’s budget to $12.9 in the proposed budget. Nevertheless, alders raised concerns about a line item proposing $250,000 for repairs to the Goffe Street Armory. The department’s budget justified the cost by saying that the repairs will allow the city to mitigate its warehousing expenses by eliminating the need to rent warehouse space.
The proposed budget totals almost $656 million, compared to last year’s budget of around $631 million.
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