Police, fire, library request increased funding in mayor’s budget
The agencies outlined their calls for increased resources at a finance committee meeting Wednesday night.
Yale Daily News
Longer library hours, additional fingerprint examiners and more vehicle supplies — these make up just a few of the line items included in Mayor Justin Elicker’s proposed 2022-23 budget.
Members of the Board of Alders heard feedback on the budget during a finance committee meeting at Hill Regional Career High School on Wednesday evening. During the public testimony portion of the meeting, representatives of the New Haven Free Public Library, New Haven Federation of Teachers and Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen all expressed a need for increased funding in their respective fields.
The meeting also included workshops for alders to review sections of the budget related to the Community Resilience, Police Services and Fire Services departments. Under the mayor’s proposal, the Community Resilience Department, a new department that consolidates the city’s homelessness, crisis response and reentry services, will receive about the same amount of funding that its constitutive agencies received last year. The police and fire services agencies will both see increases of over $3.5 million in funding to cover the cost of additional personnel, overtime pay, contractual services and supplies.
“Flat-funding homelessness services will mean that nonprofit social service providers contracting with the city will be forced under the proposed budget to do less than we have in the past,” Steve Werlin, executive director of the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, said during the meeting. “I urge the finance committee to consider … the extent to which the city of New Haven is committed to ending homelessness.”
Fewer officers, more overtime
Under the mayor’s proposal, the general fund police services budget would rise from $44,776,333 in the last fiscal year to $48,542,163 — an increase of over 8 percent. The department also anticipates that it will receive around $300,000 in special funds.
A large portion of the proposed increase in funding will cover the cost of additional department employees. Acting Police Chief Renee Dominguez said the department wants to hire two part-time fingerprint examiners at a proposed salary of $30,000, and one new lieutenant and sergeant at a budgeted salary of nearly $100,000 and nearly $90,000, respectively.
Having an additional lieutenant “works better for the span of control, also ease of reporting to somebody of a higher rank,” Dominguez said. An additional sergeant position “allows for the sergeants to be able to go to not just critical incidents and major incidents, but to run-of-the-mill calls, just to be checking on the officers, just to be providing some guidance.”
One major point of discussion during the budget workshop was the department’s overtime spending. This past fiscal year, the department was allocated $7 million for overtime. Their projected actual overtime spending is $12.6 million, according to Dominguez. For the upcoming fiscal year, the department is requesting an increase of $1.6 million in the gross overtime budget, for a total of $10.65 million.
Multiple alders asked questions about the size of the overtime budget, which Ward 21 Alder Steven Winter called “enormous.” Dominguez claimed that the spending was due to the relatively small size of the department, as compared to previous years.
“We are the lowest in 30 years for officers,” Dominguez said. “When the numbers drop, in order for us to properly staff … it causes overtime. So as our numbers go down, our overtime goes up.”
The department currently has 336 sworn police officers, 30 of whom are currently in training at the police academy. Dominguez noted that there has been a nationwide decrease in police officers, but that New Haven has recently seen higher recruitment numbers.
Some New Haven residents questioned the department’s need for increased personnel and overtime spending.
“They definitely don’t need more officers. We’re already over-policed,” Barbara Fair, a social worker and activist with Stop Solitary CT, said. “And the police they have making all the millions that they’re making on an annual basis on overtime, is not solving any crimes, is not preventing crimes. So, what are we investing in?”
Additionally, the budget allocates an extra $90,000 for spending related to mental health checks, drug testing, polygraph testing for police academy recruits and other contractual services. Dominguez noted that the department is pursuing additional accreditation to comply with last year’s police accountability bill, which slightly increases costs.
The budget also adds $70,000 to the previous $230,000 spent on vehicle repairs and maintenance and $10,000 for maintenance on the Wintergreen indoor firing range. The department will continue to spend, among other things, over $440,000 on uniforms. Spending on police services constitutes over seven percent of the proposed general fund budget.
Education, homelessness services underfunded
Five members of the public gave public testimony about the mayor’s proposed budget. The speakers included two members of the Board of Directors of the New Haven Free Public Library, the president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, the executive director of the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen and a representative of the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op.
Under the mayor’s proposal, public library funding will increase by nearly $300,000, from approximately $4 million to $4.3 million. The additional money will allow the library to hire another personal computer support technician. The library will also spend more on part-time aides so that all library branches can stay open on Sundays.
“We talk a lot about equity, but this is equity in practice,” Andrew Giering, a member of the NHFPL’s Board of Directors, said. “Extending opening hours makes critical resources available to the people who need them the most when they need them the most. … The library, with its many cultural and educational offerings, is a powerful force for social and economic mobility.”
In addition to supporting the mayor’s proposed funding increase, Giering requested that the board consider increasing library funding to one percent of the total budget, as was recommended by the mayor’s 2020 transition plan and New Haven’s new cultural equity plan. Giering pointed out that New Haven’s per-capita library funding is below the statewide average.
Lauren Anderson, president of the NHFPL’s Board of Directors, added that New Haven’s libraries exceed statewide averages for children’s circulation and visits per service-hour, even though they are open for fewer hours per week than the statewide average. She described the additional funding as “nothing short of transformative.”
Other testifiers were less optimistic about the mayor’s proposal.
Leslie Blatteau, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, described the state of the city’s education system as “a serious crisis,” particularly with regards to the ongoing teacher shortage. Blatteau said that there are 139 current vacancies in the school system, and that neighboring districts are “poaching” New Haven teachers with the promise of higher salaries.
Although Elicker’s proposed budget increases the Board of Education’s funding by $5 million, that number falls short of the $9 million that he said they requested.
“We want to do the jobs that we’ve been hired to do, but the strain on the system is real right now, and we are doing the work of multiple people because of these vacancies,” Blatteau said, to a round of applause from the audience. “We need the budget fully-funded. I can’t imagine what fall is going to be like if it’s not.”
Steve Werlin, executive director of the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, also expressed concerns about funding for homelessness services in the city. Although allocations for homelessness services have shifted from the broader Community Services Administration to the new Department of Community Resilience, the budget indicates that funding for homelessness operations will remain “status quo” at about $1.5 million. Meanwhile, Werlin said, the state of homelessness has worsened, and the cost of providing services increased. At least 600 New Haven residents are currently experiencing homelessness.
Norm Clement, a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, drew connections between insufficient funding for social services and increased funding for law enforcement.
“Why are we always increasing police budgets to further criminalize people when the roots of the problems are always being cut?” Clement wrote to the News. “Education, housing and job creation is never fully funded.”
The Fire Department will receive $38.6 million under the proposed budget, an increase of $3.6 million from the previous year. The vast majority of its allocation will go to personnel spending. Employees will receive a wage increase of two percent, as required by the department’s collective bargaining agreement. The department will hire a new fire inspector/investigator, a special mechanic, three captains and one lieutenant.
The department will spend $200,000 more on overtime, which accounts for $4.4 million of the department’s total budget. They will increase vacation and holiday pay by $100,000. The department is also requesting additional funding for maintenance, training and contractual services. Assistant Chief Justin McCarthy told the alders that costs and equipment delays have increased over the past few years due to supply chain issues.
The finance committee will meet again on April 11.