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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Budget cuts scrap 2 city departments

Many other departments also must tighten belts

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— New details of Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s tighter budget proposal released Wednesday spell the demise of the Small Business Initiative and Fair Rent Department, while also bringing layoffs at City Hall and schools, slashed subsidies, services and increased fees.
While the tax rate would remain a steady 42.2 mills, taxes are expected to rise 9.8 percent for the average homeowner due to revaluation.
DeStefano last week announced $10.3 million in cuts from his initial $466 million budget proposal, a reduction that will slash subsidies to homeless shelters, close Timothy Dwight School and three police substations and end summer weekend library hours.
More details emerged Wednesday, outlining specific departments and positions affected by layoffs and cuts.
The Small Business Initiative and Department of Fair Rent will be eliminated. Duties of the SBI will be rolled into the Economic Development Department, and Fair Rent tasks will be handled by corporation counsel, saving an estimated $166,495 and $62,444, respectively.
SBI Executive Director Walter Esdaile was hesitant to comment on his department’s demise before aldermen review the proposal, although he didn’t believe their vote would change the outcome.
“Over the years, the Small Business Initiative has been the advocate for small businesses. We were out in front for a lot of things. That didn’t mean other people didn’t deal with small businesses. Economic Development deals with them all the time. The approach might be a little different, but I’m sure there will still be attention to small businesses,” he said.
Loss of those departments will contribute to about 160 layoffs expected throughout the city.
Layoffs will hit citywide June 30, with the bulk coming from the Early Reading Success Program.
Noted positions to be eliminated elsewhere include both a senior public advocate and public advocate in City Hall’s Office of Resident Services, an assistant corporation counsel, three librarians, two police clerks, two police building attendants, a recreation supervisor, and a public works administrative assistant, accountant, laborer, carpenter, equipment operator and superintendent of streets.
“There is a possibility they could find other placements (in city positions). Everything is still in discussion,” said city spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga.
Layoffs will trigger union seniority bumping rules, and Larry Amendola, president of AFSCME, Local 3144, the city management union, said he knew of one union member in SBI with more 30 years on the job.
As teachers retire, many hurt by the sweep of layoffs will find new positions, according to New Haven Federation of Teachers President David Cicarella. “You have to have teachers in front of those kids,” he said.
Tight finances also hit city services.The West River Senior Center will be closed. Summer weekend and Monday morning library hours are out. Three police substations will be closed, including a rented space on Whalley Avenue, which will likely be moved to Hillhouse High School.
Subsidies to homeless shelters have been reduced by $500,000. Subsidies to the Shubert Theater have been reduced by $150,000, and subsidies to Tweed New Haven Regional Airport by $250,000.
However, providing a glimmer of hope, DeStefano anticipates an additional $1 million in voluntary payment-in-lieu of taxes from non-profits in the city. While details of the ongoing deal were sparse Wednesday, Yale University, Yale-New Haven Hospital, Hospital of Saint Raphael and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven have previously chipped in.
The city also expects $54,152 in additional revenue from new parking meters along Union Avenue across from the train station and will charge $150 for bulk trash pickup, expected to generate $150,000 annually.
The city also will begin charging the Pilot Pen tennis tournament and other groups for police and fire overtime for special events, saving an estimated $250,000 annually.
DeStefano proposed a $466 million budget in March that relied heavily on the state fully funding PILOT. This did not occur.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or at ebenton@nhregister.com.

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