Amid financial difficulties in New Haven that recently resulted in an 11 percent property tax hike, Mayor Toni Harp used almost $4,000 from the New Haven Fire Department’s budget to buy uniforms for her staff.
The purchases — which occurred in May — included blouses, skirts, sweaters, cardigans and pants for three of Harp’s receptionists, each of whom received $1,279 or $1,401 worth of clothing. Assistant Chief of the Fire Department Orlando Marcano purchased the uniforms for Harp’s staff from Horwitz Career Apparel and Uniforms using department funds.
According to New Haven Fire Union President Frank Ricci, firefighters in New Haven receive less than half of what each of those uniforms cost to cover their own uniform and gear expenses.
Mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the Elm City spends hundreds of thousands of dollars providing uniforms, equipment and supplies for city employees each year. He said the purchase was channeled specifically through the Fire Department because the department has a “standing relationship” with the uniform provider used for the transaction.
“The decision [to buy the uniforms] was made to provide uniform clothing for receptionists in the mayor’s office so that a standard and professional look would greet the public as members of the public arrived in the mayor’s office,” Grotheer told the News.
Grotheer also noted that the money would be returned to the Fire Department through a transfer of funds.
But Ricci said the money is being transferred back only because Marcano “got caught.” He noted that the transaction happened in May but that the city has only decided to give back the money after News 8 broke the news in late August and many Elm City residents took to social media to express their displeasure.
Ricci said he was most disappointed with Marcano, who approved the purchases in the first place, saying he “relegated his badge to be nothing more than a politician with a badge.”
“The union was very disappointed that Chief Marcano didn’t blow the whistle on city hall taking the [Fire Department’s] budget to go on a spending spree,” Ricci said.
Marcano could not be reached for comment.
Alders interviewed by the News expressed a range of reactions to the controversial purchase.
“The uniforms are a complete waste of taxpayer money,” Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth ’90 LAW ’94 said.
Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison, president pro tempore and a member of the aldermanic finance committee, noted that anytime money is moved from one budget line to another, the parties have to get the permission from the Board of Alders. She said she did not hear about the uniform purchase until it was reported in the media earlier this month.
But Finance Committee Chair and Ward 24 Alder Evette Hamilton objected, saying the uniform transactions did not have to be approved by the Board of Alders. And Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 said the committee plans to hold a hearing on the issue.
Harp is currently in her third term in office.
Ashna Gupta | email@example.com
Correction, August 29: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article said that the city transferred the money back after Mayor Toni Harp “got caught.” In fact, he was referring to Orlando Marcano, the assistant fire chief.