Rell takes heat over lack of financial help; programs cut
By Elizabeth Benton
NEW HAVEN — Grasping to fill a $14.2 million hole in the city’s 2008-09 budget, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has cut deep into city and school funding, slashing subsidies to homeless shelters, closing Timothy Dwight School, three police substations and summer weekend library hours, while also raising taxes 9.8 percent.
“I don’t believe this is a budget that moves the city forward,” DeStefano said at a Thursday press conference that packed the City Hall atrium with state legislators, union leaders and city employees who pointed an angry finger at Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
“The state of Connecticut is the city’s top tax deadbeat,” DeStefano said, a reference to his claim the state does not properly fund payment-in-lieu of taxes for non-taxable properties in the city.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell was accused of turning a blind eye toward big city needs.
“The governor has no sympathy for the financial plight of the large cities,” said state Rep. Cameron Staples, D-New Haven. “We have no choice but to redouble our efforts.”
Rell’s office shot back, claiming state aid for municipalities increased by $132 million, with New Haven receiving a $4 million increase.
“The mayor complains that New Haven’s finances are so bad he will have to make drastic cuts. Obviously they are not so bad that he cannot afford a $16,000 pay raise for himself (he asked for $25,000) and a $3,450 armoire for his office,” Rell spokesman Chris Cooper said.
DeStefano had proposed at $466 million budget in March that relied heavily on the state fully funding payment-in-lieu of taxes. But as state budget negotiations stalled in the face of a growing deficit, legislators left Hartford with a biennial budget in place, and approved no additional spending.
DeStefano announced Thursday he will submit a $455 million budget to aldermen Wednesday, a 1.6 percent increase in spending over this fiscal year.
To balance that budget, city services, staff and subsidies will be slashed, and DeStefano is in negotiations with unions over $6 million in concessions he proposed.
DeStefano’s plan includes: elimination of 58 unfilled positions and 92 filled positions, the majority from elimination of the Early Reading Success program; homeless shelter funding reduced $500,000 (leaving about $1.1 million); city shelters will no longer accept all adult men seeking beds; subsidies to the Shubert Theater reduced $150,000 (leaving $260,000); subsidies to Tweed New Haven Regional Airport reduced $250,000 (leaving $550,000); subsidies to Market New Haven reduced $150,000 (leaving $350,000); three police substations closed; free bulk trash pickup ends, charge to be determined; and Timothy Dwight School to be closed and likely used for swing space. The 290 students will be moved to Troup Magnet Academy of Science and construction at Davis Street, Vincent Mauro and East Rock Magnet schools will be delayed.
Columbus House Executive Director Alison Cunningham called cuts to homeless services “devastating.”
“I’ve never seen such a response to a budget crisis. Why do it on the backs of the most vulnerable people in the city? ... This year we had more people than ever before,” she said. “We’re bare bones as it is.”
DeStefano said women and children will be given priority at shelters, but how remaining beds will be allocated has not been determined.
Mark Volchek, chairman of the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority, said, “We’ll find a way to get through this.
“Certainly we’re disappointed,” Volchek said. “At the same time ... we’ve got lots of good things going on at Tweed.
“I think this is a reflection of the fact that Tweed is really a regional initiative, and it can’t be the city’s responsibility to fund a regional initiative,” Volchek said. “We’ll be going to the state to seek additional money.”
DeStefano refused to provide details of possible union concessions, but said he has met with union leaders since a Friday meeting outlining potential concessions, including a 6 percent increase in health benefit premiums and increased pension contributions for some employees.
“Naturally we’re trying to help,” said Larry Amendola, president of AFSCME Local 3144, the city’s management union. “I don’t want layoffs. I’m coming up with recommendations.”
New Haven Federation of Teachers President Dave Cicarella said the cuts were “unnecessary at this point.”
“It sounds like we have a good shot at getting this reading money restored,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo said the district would work to save some of the Early Reading positions. “I doubt I can save $2.3 million worth of jobs,” he said.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or firstname.lastname@example.org.