Tuesday, June 3, 2008

At 11th hour, aldermen adopt $455M budget

Tax rate will stay the same as board grapples with $14M revenue shortfall

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
— After spending 4½ hours haggling over amendments and cuts to the mayor’s proposed budget, the Board of Aldermen Monday voted 20-8 to adopt a $455M spending package.
On the revenue side of the balance sheet, the aldermen voted 17 to 10. The budget will maintain taxes at the current level .
The votes came within a half-hour of the charter-mandated midnight deadline.
Earlier in the meeting, the aldermen voted unanimously on measures to give them more oversight over city consultants and Tweed New Haven Regional Airport. But unity ended there, as the board split over whether to make cuts to services to the poor or to economic development in order to balance a budget with a $14 million deficit.
“We cannot balance this budget on the backs of the poor,” said Alderman Jorge Perez, D-5.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s proposed budget sent to the aldermen for approval eliminated $500,000 for a no-freeze policy for the homeless, but kept the city’s subsidy to the Tweed New Haven Regional Airport.
Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks, D-4, said that the city had to pull the plug on the airport, which she considers a source of ballooning debt without any benefit to constituents. The airport authority owes $25 million to the Federal Aviation Administration for airport improvements. Alderman Roland Lemar, D-9, argued that closing the airport would make the debt revert back to the city and dramatically increase taxes.
DeStefano’s revised budget proposed closing the gap by getting $6 million in union concessions, 100 layoffs, ending the no-freeze policy for the homeless, closing the Dwight Schoool and consolidating the Fair Rent Commission’s functions into the city counsel’s office.
He also proposed closing the West River Senior Center and busing the seniors to the nearby Westville center.
Sean Matteson, the mayor’s chief of staff, said that negotiations with unions continued, but no concessions have been made.
Alderman Yusuf Shah, D-23, chairman Finance Committee chairman, said his constituents have pushed hard to keep the West River center open. He received a petition with 90 signatures, along with 70 phone calls in the last five days, and was visited by elderly constituents who could barely walk. The aldermen wrestled over amendments that would avoid closing either senior center.
While the aldermen could not agree on cuts, they unanimously supported amendments to increase oversight in areas that would give them more information and control in the next budget cycle.
Perez succeeded in getting passed an amendment that would require every city department and the Board of Education to disclose all consultants, along with their job description. The amendment stipulates that no consultant may be paid unless a department reveals the consultant’s name, pay and job description to the board.
The measure passed 25-0 with four abstentions from aldermen who work in city-funded agencies or for the Board of Education.
The aldermen united to vote for increased oversight for the airport, a proposal by Alderman Alphonse Paolillo, D-17.

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