“Budgeting from a place of strength”: Elicker announces $30 million increase in city budget
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker’s plan for the city includes adding 34 city jobs while cutting the property tax rate after a property valuation that saw residents' tax bills skyrocket.
Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer
Amid historic staffing shortages and concerns about increases in taxes, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker projected confidence while presenting the city’s $665 million budget.
Elicker’s budget proposal for the fiscal year 2023-24, which he announced on Wednesday at City Hall, includes plans to lower the city’s property tax rate by roughly 6 percent, add 34 city jobs, increase New Haven Public Schools funding by $8 million, increase up-front contributions to pensions, add 12 positions to the New Haven Police Department and create an Office for Policy and Management.
“I believe this budget strikes the right balance between providing the critical services that our residents expect and deserve while also keeping our residents’ tax burden down and ensuring the financial health of our city,” Elicker told the News.
The lower property tax rate does not necessarily mean that all residents will pay lower taxes: last year’s property revaluation saw property values spike across the city, and even with a lower mill rate, residents could still have a higher tax bill next year.
Wednesday’s budget announcement was vastly different from Elicker’s 2021 budget address where he laid out two separate budgets, including a crisis budget which proposed cutting services and raising taxes. Amid a pandemic, unmitigated debt obligations and underfunded pensions, New Haven was “on the precipice of collapse in 2021” according to Elicker.
Elicker said that “smart fiscal decisions” over the last two years, which include the stabilization of pension funding and an increase in the state’s contribution to the city through the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program reimbursing municipalities in the state for non-taxable property, have contributed to the city’s “strong position” today.
“We had a $66 million gap in the budget in 2021,” Elicker told the News. “It’s been a really, really challenging three years. But when you think about where we’ve come, how far we’ve come, it is quite remarkable. It’s in part because of our team but it is also in large part because of the partnership and leadership of our state delegation and the many people on the ground, encouraging and pushing, you know, the university to contribute more to the city.”
State Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney and New Haven activists, including members of New Haven Rising and UNITE-HERE, have spent much of the last two years advocating both in Hartford and in New Haven for the state to increase its contribution to the city.
Their advocacy led to the almost-doubling of PILOT from $41 million to $90 million in 2021, which combined with Yale increasing its voluntary contribution by roughly $10 million in 2022 and 2023 to help stabilize the city’s finances. Moreover, the city has received roughly $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding from the American Rescue Plan, which must be spent over the next five years. The city’s tax revenue and investments have also increased, allowing for a stronger fiscal position.
“Many people are investing in New Haven, which has helped and will help build our tax base,” Aldermanic Finance Chair Adam Marchand told the News. “The challenge is to make sure those investments will benefit a broad swath of our community, particularly those neighborhoods most in need of resources.”
This year’s PILOT contribution will decrease slightly due to the city decreasing its mill rate. However, the city is projecting an increase in Education Cost Sharing funding from the state, as well as additional funding from Yale.
Last year’s property tax revaluation, which saw the city’s combined assessed value of properties increase by 32.5 percent, will also lead to a projected $25 million increase in tax revenue.
Elicker’s 2022 budget proposal included a plan to phase in property tax increases over five years, but the Board of Alders agreed to a two year phase-in in June of 2022. That means that residents will feel the full impact of the increase in property valuation in July of this year.
Additionally, Elicker’s 2023 budget proposal includes a measure to lower the mill rate from 39.75 to 37.20. A mill is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment. Calculating property tax requires multiplying the property assessment by the mill rate and then dividing by 1,000. According to Elicker, the rate decrease hopes to soften the burden from the property tax revaluation.
According to information provided by city spokesperson Lenny Speiller, the average one-family home in New Haven can expect to see a $500 tax increase under the FY24 budget, while two-family and three-family homes will see an increase on average of $851 and $934 respectively.
On top of the reval change, the city is planning on increasing its up-front contributions to pensions by $2.3 million annually, adding up a total pension contribution from the city of $83 million per year. The city also plans on placing a cap on capital borrowing at $55 million. According to Elicker, this is the lowest level of borrowing the city has projected in recent memory.
Wednesday’s budget proposal also includes plans to raise salaries for city employees and to add 34 positions to city government.
These positions include 12 new positions in the New Haven Police Department, including a new lieutenant, three sergeants, three detectives, one crime analyst and two animal control officers. The city’s park departments also plan to add seven new park caretaker positions.
“New staffing positions are some of the most scrutinized portions of the debate over the budget so I’m looking to hear from the Mayor and department heads about these positions and their necessity,” Marchand told the News.
While the city hopes to add these 34 new positions, more than 100 city positions lay vacant, according to numbers released at the Board of Alder’s most recent finance committee meeting.
Mayoral candidate Shafiq Abdussabur criticized Elicker’s plans to increase the number of staff positions in the city without filling the 112 positions which currently lay empty.
“We don’t need to grow the government … the city has been hemorrhaging new hires over the past three years,” Abdussabur told the News. “There is a claim that New Haven can’t attract people because the pay is too low. There is no question that the current cost of living and quality of life creates a burden, [but] the issue here isn’t about just salaries and career paths, it’s about leadership and that starts at the top.”
Abdussabur added that “unsettled union contracts” have left current unionized employees “unsure about their financial futures causing more instability in the city.”
Elicker told the News that he is working with unions to solidify contracts and hopes that the salary increases in the budget — which will bring parity between what New Haven and most other cities in Connecticut pay their workers — will help alleviate staffing problems.
Combined with the planned staffing increases, Elicker’s budget calls for an additional $8 million in funding for New Haven Public Schools. According to Elicker, $3.5 million will come from an increase in Educational Cost Sharing funding from the state while the other $4.5 million will come from the city’s coffers.
The budget increase can largely be accounted for by the recently ratified teacher’s contract, which increases teacher’s salaries by 15 percent over the next three years.
Finally, the city’s budget is making two administrative shifts. First, New Haven Free Public Library will now be under the direction of the community services administrator instead of the chief administrative officer.
According to Elicker, this shift represents the important space NHFPL occupies in connecting residents with social services. He said that this change will reflect a commitment to making libraries a “community hub and gathering place for residents.”
Second, the city plans to create the Office of Policy, Management and Grants, which will split off from the current finance department and focus on streamlining “the work of preparing and reviewing the budget, preparing multi-year plans, guiding the city through financial audits, and improving the City’s grant process.”
The 2023-2024 budget proposal will now move to the Board of Alders, where the Aldermanic Finance Committee, under Marchand, plans on holding public information and hearing sessions on March 13 and March 16. The Board of Alders must pass a budget by the first Monday of June.
City Hall is located at 165 Church St.