On City Budget, Compromise Wins The Day

Thomas MacMillan PhotoNo to new parking fees at Lighthouse Point Park. Yes to Helene Grant School construction and New Haven Academy renovation. No to a new police communications manager and a new home for Hyde School. Yes to a study of the city’s school “configuration.” No to a property revaluation in two years.

That’s what compromise looked like at City Hall Thursday night.

Some of those decisions were the results of bargaining between the DeStefano administration and leaders of the Board of Aldermen on the upcoming year’s city budget, which takes effect July 1.

The aldermanic Finance Committee OK’d those compromises as it approved the new budget at a meeting Thursday night. Now the budget goes to the full board for approval with imprimatur of support from both legislative and administration leaders.

The board will hold a final vote at a special May 29 meeting, where further amendments may be offered.

Last-minute amendments Thursday night shrank the proposed general fund budget by $369,325, or 0.07 percent, reducing it to $486.4 million.

Among the general fund reductions were the elimination of three proposed new staff positions: a much-derided new communications manager for the police department, a deputy youth director, and an assistant building inspector.

Amendments to the capital budget were more financially significant, reducing proposed borrowing by $17.1 million. That reduction would eliminate a planned construction of a new home for the Hyde school at Hillhouse High.

The committee also passed a policy amendment championed by Aldermanic President Jorge Perez. The proposal would require the Board of Ed to study and prepare a report on whether it would be feasible or desirable to combine some city schools.

Those amendments were developed by the administration in collaboration with the leadership of the Board of Aldermen, according to Matt Smith, the mayor’s liaison to the board. He and budget director Joe Clerkin Thursday presented them to the committee, which then moved and voted on them.

Clerkin and Smith (pictured) presented another amendment that didn’t fair as well: Borrowing $1 million for the planning and design of a new Bowen athletic field at Hillhouse High. Aldermen rejected that as an unreasonable amount of money to pay to study a field.

The budget changes the Finance Committee approved Thursday did not go as far as Aldermen Justin Elicker and Doug Hausladen had hoped. The pair, representing East Rock and downtown respectively, had put forward amendments that would have eliminated more new positions and more borrowing for school construction and renovation. The fate of their efforts reflected the new political math in city government: They operated independently of the new labor-backed aldermanic super-majority, which in turn can cut a deal with the administration and deliver the votes.

At the end of the four-hour meeting, Elicker joked that the budget as approved is a “medium victory” that he’s “medium happy” with.

The committee also voted to eliminate a planned new parking fee for New Haveners visiting Lighthouse Point Park.

The Independent reported live from City Hall. Read on for a minute by minute account of the budget debate.

Live Blog

6:00 p.m.: At the meeting’s scheduled start time, five aldermen are seated at the conference table: Evette Hamilton, Justin Elicker, Migdalia Castro, Jessica Holmes, and Jorge Perez.

6:02: Here come the rest. Arriving now: Aldermen Al Paolillo, Jeanette Morrison, Doug Hausladen, and committee Chair Andrea Jackson-Brooks. The audience comprises about 25 people, excluding press and legislative staff.

6:06: Jackson-Brooks calls the meeting to order and reads the agenda.

6:10: Morrison (pictured) begins, presenting her fee proposal. She says: This issue was brought to my attention by constituents, that the fee had been increased to $20 for parking. It’s a lot of money. A lot of people wouldn’t be able to afford that. [This fee is proposed for the next fiscal year. Previously, it’s been free.] I talked to the administration and came up with a compromise: $5 for a day pass, and $10 for a season pass. Plus, New Haveners older than 62 have no fee. And active and retired military would be free as well. ... The fees are only if you park. If you walk in, or take the bus, it’s free. ... The fees proposal would apply to New Haveners only.

Castro: Have you spoken to the management team there about this?

Morrison: I talked with Sal [DeCola, the East Shore alderman].

Castro: If there’s a fee, it might cause a problem with the neighborhood. People will park outside and walk in.

Morrison: They straightened that out with a parking zone there. People will get towed if they do that.

Holmes (pictured): I think this is a reasonable idea. What’s the impact on the park’s bottom line, in terms of money coming into the park?

Morrison: The expectation was that this fee would bring in $20,000 next year. But that was seen as a low number, so the reduction of the proposed $20 fee to $10 won’t make a difference.

[More people are trickling into the audience. It’s up to just over 30 people now.]

6:19: Perez: I had a discussion with Rob [Smuts, city chief administrative officer]. The city believes that even with this reduction there will still be enough money coming in.

Alderman Sal DeCola arrives. And Alderwoman Barbara Constantinople.

Hausladen: Do we know the maintenance costs for the parking lot? [He asks for the numbers to be prepared.]

6:22: Jackson-Brooks opens the floor to public testimony. Budget watchdog Ken Joyner (pictured) sits and says: With all due respect to Alderwoman Morrison, and acknowledging that an opportunity to save residents even $10 is good to discuss, we need to ask if there is a legitimate fee increase in the budget. The finance department had said there would be no fee increases.The budget as proposed says, no increase in fees. When did this increase come about? We need to consider if the parks department really needs more money from taxpayers. The department has a general fund budget of over $4 million, with a capital funds budget of over $2 million, and a special fund budget of several hundred thousand dollars. ... The department carried significant amounts of money at the end of the year that they were able to transfer. So there’s money in the budget irrespective of fees. ... The parks department is still running $60,411 under budget. They’re running a “plus” in the general fund budget. ... But they’re running a deficit in the revenue. ... Our estimates are running behind in licenses permits and fees. ... We’ve raised the fees to levels people can no longer afford. ... We should not be charging for admission.

Alderwoman Claudette Robinson-Thorpe arrives.

Joyner: I don’t think the taxpayers, who are increasing the amount of money they’re giving to the parks department, should also be asked to pay a fee. It’s nice that Morrison wants to reduce the fee, but it should be eliminated.

6:32: Perez: When were these fees implemented? Somebody’s collecting a fee. Cars have had to pay to park recently.

Castro: Last year we blocked the fees…

Perez: Let’s call Rob [Smuts].

Smuts sits and says: The question is whether this is a new fee. It was introduced last year, but the Board of Aldermen suspended it. It was still in the budget, but suspended. We messed up this year and only put in the seasonal pass rate, not the daily rate.

Perez: I’m just trying to clarify. Last year, in the budget, a fee was passed. Whether it was implemented or not, a couple of weeks ago, at a fundraiser at the park, everyone had to pay to drive in.

6:36: Smuts and Hausladen discuss how New Haven residency is established: car registration or Elm City ID card.

Castro asks about suspension of the fee.

Smuts: The ultimate action by the board was to leave it in the budget but suspend its application. ... It was suspended for calendar year 2011. ... The fee will kick in Memorial Day.

Perez: People were being charged recently. Sounds like they’re due a refund.

Smuts: New Haven residents should not have been charged. We can look into it. ... If you take no further action, there will be a $20 fee, since it’s already put in by last year’s budget and included again in this year’s.

6:40: Morrison asks Smuts about “special events.”

Smuts: The perfect example is events like the Walk For Hunger. They’re generally scheduled for off-peak times. The intent would be not to charge the full amount for events like this. We have some language on this. ...

[Former mayoral candidate and budget watchdog Jeffrey Kerekes is tweeting from the audience. He writes: “Typical finance committee event. Spend tons of time speaking about a $10 versus $20 fee and no time on the budget crisis.”]

6:44: Budget watchdog Gary Doyens testifies: I’m opposed to any fee at Lighthouse Park. The public owns that park. I’m against “nickel and diming” people who live in the city. This is akin to the “rain tax,” the stormwater authority that was proposed last year. This is a basic service the city should provide. Our property taxes are in the top 5 percent in the nation. We shouldn’t have to pay $5 or $10 or $20. Also, the fee will push people to park outside, and the people there pay too high taxes for that.

Rebecca Turcio, an active Cedar Hill resident, says: I come from a lower income community. Sometimes the only thing kids in my neighborhood have is to go to the beach on the weekend. These people do not go on vacation. They given up the luxuries of life. To ask them to pay the fee is wrong.  It makes no sense to me.

Alderwoman Delphine Clyburn arrives.

Morrison: You do understand the fee is only for parking?

Turcio: Yes.

Morrison: This discussion is about lowering what was already approved.

Turcio: Do you think people in your community can afford the extra money?

Morrison: If people didn’t have to pay anything, that would be good. ... This is a price that had already been implemented last year. ... Whether to have a fee or not was a conversation for last year.

Turcio: Thank you for getting it down.

6:51: No further public testimony. Perez moves the item. Elicker seconds. Perez moves to amend: The fee should go to zero. The money to make up the difference can come from attrition.

Castro seconds.

Elicker: Could we hear from the alderman of the 18th ward? [DeCola.]

DeCola: I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls and email. I agree it should go to zero.

Holmes: The question isn’t whether to pay or not. New Haven residents already pay through their taxes. I would support the amendment. The fee should be minimal or nonexistent.

Castro: The majority of New Haven residents don’t have the luxury to have “splash” or barbecue in their backyards. ... I support the amendment.  What are we going to do next? Are we going to charge for the air that we breathe?

6:57: Jackson-Brooks: The proposal is to reduce all fees for New Haveners to zero. Parking fees for out-of-towners, out-of-staters, and buses will remain.

Morrison: Wait, New Haven buses? What about church trips from New Haven churches?

Perez: People from many towns attend my church. We can go back to this at another time.

Morrison: I just wanted to put it out there.

Hausladen: The language on military is redundant with the reduction to zero.

Paolillo says he’s in support of the amendment.

Voting: The matter passes unanimously. New Haveners will not have to pay parking fees (if the full board approves).

7:02: On to the budget proper. Budget director Joe Clerkin sits to presents some technical amendments. He’s joined by Matt Smith, the mayor’s legislative liaison to the board. They hand out packets of paper.

Clerkin: In this packet is a series of changes. There are four all together. Section A is the general fund budget…There’s a proposed reduction of about $370,000 less in the budget. That includes a number of reduction changes, the most significant of which are the elimination of the police department’s proposed new communications manager and of a proposed deputy youth director.

Another big change is a reduction in the capital budget of $17,000,000, having to do with construction of Hyde School. That is, the city would not borrow $17 million to build a new Hyde School.

There’s a proposed change to Lighthouse Park fees, which is now mostly moot.

Also, there is a proposed policy amendment to “conclude a report on alternative methods of structuring the current high school configuration no later than December 31, 2012.”

Elicker: Why are we only receiving this now?

Clerkin: This has been in the works for a while.

Elicker: I’ve heard some of the proposals in this. Some address the changes Doug and I proposed. I like to spend time with proposals. ... [He asks about proposed elimination of vacant positions in public works.] ... So, Hyde School has been eliminated? And you’re adding a policy amendment to look at high school configuration?

Perez: Some people feel that we have too many high schools. It might makes sense to look at combining schools. Maybe it makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t make sense. I suggest we require experts to look at it. That’s the goal of this.

Elicker: I haven’t read the amendment, but all it says is requesting the city to give us a report? ... The other change is the addition of $1 million for a planning and development study for Bowen Field. What is that?

Smith: How much would it cost to rehabilitate the field? We’re looking at the cost of that.

Elicker: For $1 million?

Smith: Yes.

Elicker: And the elimination of new positions. There are three: police, youth services, and a building inspector.

Clerkin: Yes.

Hausladen: Does this have to go back for public testimony?

Jackson-Brooks: No.

Holmes: $1 million seems to be more than any of the other proposed studies. Where did that number come from?

Smith: It was provided by the Board of Ed.

[Kerekes is all a-Twitter: “$1 Million to study a field.”]

Elicker: The policy amendment with the high schools?

Perez: My intent was to address the belief that we have too many schools. We should look at the possibility of combining them.

[Why is Perez explaining the administration’s proposed amendments, saying “my intent”? I assume he worked with the administration to draft them, or at least this one.]

7:22: Paolillo asks about Helene Grant and leases.

Clerkin: There is a leasing cost to the Helene Grant program. ... [He’s talking about leasing versus buying a new school.] There is an additional cost, but it’s not dramatically different.

Elicker: That issue was not addressed in the packet. I have a portion of the analysis.

Castro asks if Hyde school will be part of the policy amendment study.

Smith: Yes.

Castro: No, my question is ... [?]

Smith: “I’m not sure if I still follow your question, alderwoman.”

Castro tries again.

Smith: In the capital budget Helene Grant is a new building…

Hausladen asks for a five-minute recess to “look at this a little deeper.”

The chair calls a 10-minute recess.

[Whew. Some big developments here. What will these proposed amendments mean for the more dramatic amendments Elicker and Hausladen put forward? Will this more moderate revision take the wind out of the pair’s proposals? It’s significant that Perez, the president of the board, appears to be backing the mayor’s amendments, or at least one of them. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion!]

7:43: I just spent a few minutes speaking with a very enthusiastic New Haven Academy English teacher, Sandra Friday. She came down here with one of her students, hoping to speak about the school, which is one of those that Aldermen Elicker and Hausladen are proposing to not renovate. She said the school is in terrible shape: The library as no air conditioning and gets to 90 degrees for the whole month of May; the cafeteria floods when it rains; the chemistry teacher’s computer projects fizzle due to bad wiring. “We’re operating on a wing and a prayer. ... All we need is a bit of renovation. We’re not asking for the moon.”

7:55: Chairwoman Jackson-Brooks calls the meeting back to order.

Perez moves appropriating ordinance number one, the first part of the budget.

Castro proposes an amendment, the one that Clerkin described that would reduce the general fund budget by $370,000.

Elicker, to clarify for the public: There are a number of different sections to the budget. First we’re dealing with the spending portion. Then we’ll talk about revenues. And then we’re going to talk about capital projects. We’re just talking about the general fund first. The amendment Alderwoman Castro presents [the first one the administration proposed] is fine. “I think we should do more. But I know when to fight my battles.” This has the elimination of three positions. We proposed eliminating 11. I’ve learned that some of those will pay for themselves, so it’s fine not to eliminate them. There are others that I would eliminate, but I don’t have the votes. I’m supporting this portion.

Perez: I support this also. It will reduce the budget. Whether you think there should be more or not, you should support it.

8;01: All approve unanimously. The amendment is approved.

Elicker passes out his and Hausladen’s amendments. Elicker speaks about the policy amendment—conducting a statistical revaluation in a couple of years to even out property value spikes.

Elicker: The city conducts a revaluation every 5 years. Every other time it’s statistical versus more in-depth and in person.. ... Housing prices changed dramatically. Ideally we’d do a reval every year. That would be the only fair thing to do, to tax appropriately. But it’s just to expensive to do that. ... I like to do things that we have control over… This is an attempt in two years to readjust and check in with all the housing values again and “leveling out some of those odd spikes” in property values.

Perez: Did we get a letter from corp counsel on this issue?

Elicker: I got an email at 3:30 p.m. today. I can read it. [Pulls out his iPhone.] Aldermen Perez asked at the last meeting if this was legal, if we could require a future board to do something that needs to be funded. ...

Elicker, reading the letter from corp counsel: ... The city charter does not have the power to proscribe or circumscribe future boards. ...

Elicker, as himself again: Basically, we can pass this. Future boards can overturn it. ...

Perez: ... trying to decipher the letter.

Elicker: We’re not signing a contract.

Castro asks about commenters’ questions in the Independent on this matter: Does a statistical revaluation really show the value? I’m not clear what this will do and if it makes sense for us to spend $500,000 to do it.

Elicker: I am not an expert. I think you have a good point, a lot of constituents thought the reval was unfair. There’s an appeals process.

Holmes: The spirit of this is in the right place. ... But I remain unconvinced that this will work for people because of the “failures of the systems that we’re working within.” This is going to require a state solution. Like a tax cap. ... “This will require us to spend $500,000 in a couple of years, just hoping that the market will have changed.” It would be helpful to have more certainty.

Elicker: I agree that there is a risk. But we as a city all take on that risk. It’s a good policy to update the city’s grand list more frequently than we currently do. We’ve done freezes and phase-ins. We’ve tried to do all kinds of “funny math,” including the Homeowner Fairness Initiative. This would mean no more funny math. “Let’s get beyond that and do revals more frequently.” There is a cost, but people will be more likely to invest in the city. ... I’m not confident that state-wide solutions are feasible, given what happened at the capitol this year.

Holmes: ... If we could find a more systematic solution at the state, that would be preferable. I’m not talking about pushing something like the fairness initiative every two years.

8:18: Paolillo: Are you saying we should do this every two years?

Elicker: It would be a good idea, but no.

Palillo: So it’s a one-time fix. ... Where do we go beyond that, to not return to the circus?

Elicker: This is not funny math. ... If we were proposing to change policy for 20 years, it would merit more dialogue. This is a response to the fairness initiative not passing. ... We owe it to our constituents to do something, to help them out. ... Every two years would be a good Idea. I’m not proposing that.

Paolillo: I’m saying that two years doesn’t create a lot of consistency.

Elicker: If we get hit by another reval, we should do it. “It’s time we get over the funny math.”

Perez: What might be fair for some is not for others. Certain areas are going to see some “nice reductions” in taxes, with the new property values now coming on line. In two years it could be an increase, or more reductions.

Hausladen: We’ve done phase-ins and freezes. ... I think we’ve set policy so that some in our city get hit really hard.

Perez: What happened last time was much different. All homeowners got hit last time. ... There was a good logic last time.

8:26: I live in a commercial property and my rent was affected last time by what aldermen thought was fair for homeowners. We’re all one city, not homeowners versus commercial. ... I’m strongly supporting this amendment out of fairness to the city as a whole.

Castro: We should make a committee to get more answers. I want to know exactly what I’m voting on.

Perez: We could do a working group. But I think this amendment is very straightforward. Do we want to do a reval in two years? Some people may be required to pay more or less taxes. There’s some risk. ... I suggest people deserve a yes or no, rather than a working group.

Jackson-Brooks calls for a vote.

Elicker: Let’s not send this to a working group. Let’s vote.

A hand vote. Only Elicker and Hausladen raise their hands. The amendment dies.

8:31: Next up, the policy amendment on a study of high school combining. Perez moves it.

Perez: I am not suggesting any school at this point be combined. We owe it to the taxpayers to be studied.

Holmes: High school performance should be a factor, not just “lumping buildings together.”

Perez: It’s a legitimate point. ...

Jackson-Brooks asks for clarification.

Perez: In New Haven there are approximately 12 high schools. Should we have fewer? ... We have high schools that have as few as 250 students. Should some of those small schools be combined?

Voting: All approve unanimously.

8:36: Hausladen: I have an amendment from Alderman Sergio Rodriguez. [He’s reading quickly. I’m not getting it. Something about adding/removing a position somewhere.]

Perez: It looks budget neutral ...

Hausladen: I withdraw my amendment. [He doesn’t have Rodriguez’s details on the amendments and can’t answer questions on it.] We can vote on this at the full board meeting if it’s important.

8:41: Aldermen discuss position elimination and Elicker/Hausladen’s amendment on that, which they are not putting forward anymore because the mayor’s amendment addressed some of the intent of that proposal.

8:43: No more amendments. Perez moves the spending portion of the budget as amended. It passes unanimously.

On to revenue. Perez moves that portion, then proposes an amendment.

Perez: I move that we change the mill rate to 38.88 from 40.56. The 40.56 assumed the passage of the Homeowner Fairness Initiative.

The amendment passes unanimously.

8:50: After some procedural confusion, voting on the revenue portion: Unanimous approval.

Elicker: Can we move item 4 before #3. It’s the school budget and I have an amendment that would effect item #3.

Perez: I move item number four.

Elicker: I’m assuming we’ll discuss the Bowen field study in Item number three. Is that a safe assumption? ... My amendment is to eliminate bonding for three schools. The mayor is proposing eliminated bonding for one. I’ll move the Elicker/Hausladen amendment, to eliminate $42.3 million in borrowing. ... This is the most important decision we have to make in this year’s budget. It can make a significant impact on future budgets. If we eliminate these three school projects, the city will have an extra 3.1 million each year for the next 20 years to spend on teachers and book s and police and library hours. But this is a hard decision because: Why are you picking on my school? Why is it fair for New Haven Academy to not have a renovated school? Why have we waited and not renovated those? I didn’t make the schedule. We issued $1.5 billion in bonds. We’re spening $65 million on debt service. We have to look at this as a school system, not individual schools. We have to make difficult decisions on schools. In New Haven Academy, it’s totally unfair that they have to learn in that environment. ... But there are other options on the table. One, put the school elsewhere. Maybe divide it up. Maybe move it somewhere. I will pass out a document that shows that we are not filling our schools. [The document says the capacity for New Haven schools is 19,970; the enrollment is 16,993. Becky Bombero, city liaison with Hartford, said Friday that actual enrollments are closer to 19,000, citing this document.] We have space for these students. “It stinks” that their school has not been renovated and they might have to move. But there are other options on the table. And there’s another option: We spend just $3.6 million on the school, fixing what needs it most.

Morrison: New Haven Academy needs renovation. That school is producing good students. They are burning up. The school has no air conditioning. That school has the same stuff from the 70s. It’s not fair to the students. They were in swing space for a number of years. Why do they have to keep moving? All they’re asking for is basic things: air conditioning, tables.

Hausladen: One option was for the $3.6 million renovation: roof, windows. The bid on the roof is $1.6 million. That’s $80 per square foot. That’s twice as high as any roofer told me it should be. ... If we bond for this and wait for the state to pay for it, the kids will have to move for a year. ... If we went for $3.6 million we could start next year and save $500,000 a year. My personal preference is to get New Haven Academy the stuff it needs now and not wait for bonding at the state. ... We could even increase it to include HVAC upgrades.

The New Haven Academy founder and principal Gregory Baldwin (pictured with Alderman Elicker after the meeting) is one of the few people remaining in the audience, listening intently. Holmes addresses him, saying he’s a victim of his own success: You’ve shown how much you can do with so little. ... I don’t think we need to renovate to new. But we need to fix the worst. We should find an estimate for upgrading the wiring for IT.

Elicker: We could always approve that funding during the normal fiscal year. ... Our amendment also covers Helene Grant. It also covers Hyde School, but my sense is that’s not going to pass. ... With Helene Grant, the city proposes borrowing $14.8 million to consolidate pre-k programs. I believe those programs should be scattered sites around the city. ... This isn’t about being against pre-K. We should have scattered sites, not one location.

9:09: Castro: I want to disagree. We’re talking about closing the achievement gap. This is much needed. ... I received a lot of calls, not only from parents but also from students. ... I’m not going to be supporting this amendment.

Elicker: I think we actually agree. The spirit of what I’m talking about is that your Fair Haven residents don’t have to drive over to Goffe Street. I’m not saying we shouldn’t support pre-K. I believe the opposite.

Perez: I recommend we separate Helene Grant out from the other amendments. I move that we do so.

Hausladen seconds. The motion passes unanimously.

Perez: So what’s in front of us? Hyde and New Haven Academy together.

Elicker: Zero funding for those. But we could add funding for NHA later.

9:18: Elicker: We’re voting now on eliminating two schools from the capital budget. The first is Hyde, the second is New Haven Academy.

Morrison: Can we separate all of them?

Elicker: I will withdraw the entire amendment and move all individually. I move to eliminate capital funding for Hyde.

Morrison: It appears the Board of Ed has taken the Hyde proposal off the table.

Perez: I would not say that they would prefer us not to fund it.

All vote to approve the elimination of capital funding for Hyde..

Elicker: I move to eliminate funding for New Haven Academy.

The motion fails in a split voice vote.

Elicker: I move to eliminate funding for Helene Grant.

Holmes: Pre-K you could walk to would be ideal, but the current four locations don’t allow for that. Given the opportunity for more space, I think we should take it.

Elicker: I’m not convinced we don’t have that space available. At Wilbur Cross they have a child care center. I’m not convinced that we need to spend $14.8 million of city money. If you vote for this proposal [eliminating borrowing], we’ll have more money to spend on pre-K.

Jackson-Brooks: We’ve got kids with nowhere to go. The schools are not available.

Elicker: You mean space or funding constraints?

Jackson-Brooks: Space.

[Elicker mutters something, still unconvinced there’s not enough space.]

Paolillo: It’s a significant cost we’re paying to lease someone’s space.

Hausladen: Any money spend on construction will go to someone else.

Paolillo: But we’ll have an asset.

Elicker: And we’ll add renovation, cleaning, and staff costs. It’s more complicated than just debt service versus lease costs.

9:28: Voting on Helene-Grant: Elicker and Hausladen are the only two to vote in favor of eliminating funding.

Perez moves his proposal for the study of the current high school configuration.

Hausladen proposes a friendly amendment that the study include all schools.

Perez accepts.

Jackson-Brooks asks for more particulars.

Perez says staff will give more guidance.

The motion passes unanimously.

9:32 p.m.Perez moves the board of ed budget, as amended. It passes unanimously.

On to item #3, capital projects.

Elicker moves the $1 million study of Bowen field that the mayor proposed, for discussion only, he says. “I don’t think this is a good idea.” He urges his colleagues not to support it.

Perez: Putting down a million dollars with no explanation is hard to support.

Voting: No one supports the amendment. It dies unanimously.

9:37: Back to the main item: the capital budget, item #3. It passes unanimously.

Perez moves item #5. He explains: The self-insurance fund has a deficit. This proposal is to bond to reduce that deficit.

Elicker: It’s not like this fixes the problem. ... The bond rates were low, so it made sense to bond for this.

Perez: Yes. ... The deficit is primarily due to the Ricci case.

The matter carries unanimously.

9:40: The next item is the Homeowner Fairness Initiative, which is moot because it didn’t pass the state legislature.

Aldermen can now plow through the rest of the items: the skating rink enterprise fund, the carousel fund, etc.. All are approved unanimously.

9:42: Meeting adjourned. The budget moves on to the full Board of Aldermen.


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posted by: jeffreykerekes on May 17, 2012  6:07pm

The BOA finance committee is only accepting testimony on the fees for lighthouse point.  Not many people from the public are here. If you’re reading this, come on down.

posted by: jeffreykerekes on May 17, 2012  6:41pm

Typical finance committee event. Spend tons of time speaking about a $10 versus $20 fee and no time on the budget crisis.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 17, 2012  8:02pm

One million to study Bowen field. What a crock and an extraordinary waste of money. What is really going on here? City Haller Matt Smith stuttered when trying to explain the unexplainable and indefensible.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on May 17, 2012  11:57pm

“Perez: In New Haven there are approximately 12 high schools. Should we have fewer? ... We have high schools that have as few as 250 students”

Does that question even need to be asked?? But, considering the proposed 1M to “study” Bowen Field I guess I’m not surprised.  Thankfully that one died.

posted by: robn on May 18, 2012  8:08am

So here you have it folks. The union coalition refuses to stop building schools and can’t even pass a modest fee on park useage, nevermind shrinking or closing parks, which is really what they should be doing. As for killing the statistical reval in two years, thats just plain backstabbing. Tyranny of the majority.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 18, 2012  8:54am

I’m not medium happy with this budget but it is better than from where it started. Congratulations on that part. However, before any more money is spent on more $50 million schools, the BOE should be forced to justify the cost and the need to the satisfaction of the BOA. For every million dollars the city borrow, it costs $72,000 per year.

Finance decided to borrow the $6 million for Ricci - I guess is the reason why he attended the budget meeting last night. While this was approved, it should have been. This judgement was the result of extremely poor management, political decisions and money hungry plaintiffs. Now taxpayers are paying. This should be paid for through the general fund by cutting other programs, people or wasteful spending. There are consequences.

posted by: streever on May 18, 2012  9:07am

Do we really have high schools with 250 students? Wow.

$1 million to study a field?

I’m pretty sure our BOE needs to be replaced. As it is entirely mayorally appointed, I’m pretty sure we need to replace our mayor as a first step.

posted by: newhavenishome on May 18, 2012  9:14am

Not nearly enough budget-trimming occurred. Can’t even get an email response from my alderman re: his stance on the budget. I bbelievehe is too busy marching for jobs and whatnot. I have no faith that any significant changes will be enacted by the full board.

posted by: SaveOurCity on May 18, 2012  9:30am

Sad day for New Haven….after weeks of public testimony and a flood of letters and phone calls, Perez and Co do nothing to deal with the ReVal problem and do very little to slow irresponsible spending.  A great opportunity appears to be lost.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on May 18, 2012  10:23am

different year, new people same ending

posted by: anonymous on May 18, 2012  10:46am

“If we eliminate these three school projects, the city will have an extra 3.1 million each year for the next 20 years to spend on teachers and books and police and library hours.”

Perez and leadership have shown they agree that enormous contracts for DeStefano donors and jobs for suburban residents are more important than safe streets or the future of the youth of this city.  We are now cutting Youth at Work, too.

posted by: streever on May 18, 2012  11:06am

Just received an email from Greg Baldwin on small high schools: I thought I should give him some props here for his outreach and communication with the public. I think transparent dialogues can only improve our city, and really appreciate his voice being in the conversation.

He sent me a number of documents and some information to justify a high school with 250 students—I let him know I appreciated the information and would be reading it all when I had time.

This is the type of dialogue that everyone at our city should be empowered to enter into and create—regardless of my final thoughts on this very complex issue, I really appreciate Mr. Baldwin’s commitment to being transparent and communicative! Bravo.

posted by: hdavid on May 18, 2012  12:21pm

I left after 90 minutes of discussions about keeping or eliminating the $20 parking fees for Lighthouse Point.  Unproductive time.

REgarding Elickers biannual assessment proposal: “I agree that there is a risk. But we as a city all take on that risk. It’s a good policy to update the city’s grand list more frequently than we currently do. We’ve done freezes and phase-ins. We’ve tried to do all kinds of “funny math,” including the Homeowner Fairness Initiative. This would mean no more funny math. “Let’s get beyond that and do revals more frequently.” There is a cost, but people will be more likely to invest in the city.”

My question is: “What is the point of spending money of more frequent assessments when our politicos lack the vertebrae to act upon the results? So we get more frequent assessments and then play pandering for vote games by pitting East Rock against the rest, home owners against the rest, commercial against residential. ”  Why waste any more money on assessments we are not prepared to use as a basis for valuation??

Regarding the school capital budget.  Only Elicker and Hausladen voted for their amendment to eliminate the $42 million for the three schools entirely.  All the others saw merit to continuation of our spendthrift policy of borrowing to spend and leave to someone down the road to raise taxes.  With a 10% under utilization of our schools, and in our current economic environment do we really need to borrow $42 million—with interest consequences of around $2 million each year in perpetuity—to build new schools?

Same players, same games.  It is enough to renew our faith in our leaders.


posted by: SLP on May 18, 2012  2:06pm

Re: consolidating small high schools. Be careful what you wish for. New Haven’s two largest high schools are its so-called “failing” schools and though they are better than that label, even boosters will tell you they suffer from significant problems. On the other hand, the city’s smaller high schools are among its best-run successes. Many parents and students are flocking to the smaller schools so as to avoid Cross and Hillhouse. Don’t be shortsighted and “fix” the few that ain’t broken. That’s a false economy that could destroy the most effective educational communities we have in favor of creating a new batch of chaotic, struggling, underperforming schools. Is that really what we want for New Haven?

Re: $1M for Bowen Field: I suspect and hope something was lost in translation. That field, track, and stadium are in sad shape. Outdoor high school athletic facilities in New Haven are light years behind most other towns’, and most New Haven outdoor teams are consigned to practice and compete on ill-kept, often-flooded public parks decorated with trash, broken glass, and drug paraphernalia. It’s an embarrassment for the city and its schools, athletes, and supporters. For example, last fall, after area towns complained about the poor state of Rice Field in East Rock Park, the CT Interscholastic Athletic Conference would not allow HS soccer games to be played in New Haven. So please know that city athletes are at a distinct and genuine disadvantage in terms of facilities. Now, the money to correct this problem may not exist in this economy, but their situation should nonetheless—and at minimum—be acknowledged by our city’s leaders. (Surely the $1M proposal was in part for renovation, not just a study—sounds like maybe the city did not present its case well or clearly.)

posted by: HhE on May 18, 2012  2:09pm

This is mind numbingly frustrating.

jeffreykerekes is right, time spent on a small potatoes issue rather than the systemic problem. 

Barrow a million dollars to fund a study for Bowen Field?  At least the BOA got that one right, but that the Mayor’s Office could even dare to put that forward, says a lot.  (Borrowing money to buy a car to go to a job that will pay for the loan might be reasonable.  Borrowing money to buy a rag top sports car for weekend only use is stupid.)

The failure (and that is the kindest word I have for it) to pass the statistical reevaluation demonstrates as well as anything else their “stick to people that have money, never mind it will gut this city” world view.


posted by: hdavid on May 18, 2012  5:12pm

HhE: The failure (and that is the kindest word I have for it) to pass the statistical reevaluation demonstrates as well as anything else their “stick to people that have money, never mind it will gut this city” world view.”

Why think you so? I cannot speak to the difference in accuracy and cost of a statistical reveal vs what was done last year by Vision Appraisal. Perhaps you can educate me.  My comment relates to the futility of doing any reveal by any method if, after we pay for the work, we end up playing blatant vote pandering games as to how to freeze, phase-in, or do other mischief to negate the results of the revaluations.  The frequency of any revaluations should be based on the estimates of market price discrepancies between various City neighborhoods.  This can be done with very limited sampling.  A revaluation—statistical or full function—can be done if the discrepancy in price changes between neighborhoods warrant this.
I fully concur on the value (lack of) of doing a $1 million study. Sounds like a (NRN) Nice Round Number with limited or no supporting proposals. I suppose when our school fathers can think nothing of spending around $50 million per school this may seem like small potatoes. And some might think that borrowing the money is nifty—we can spread the cost over many decades. Leadership is hardly the word.

SLP: Re: consolidating small high schools. Be careful what you wish for. New Haven’s two largest high schools are its so-called “failing” schools and though they are better than that label, even boosters will tell you they suffer from significant problems. On the other hand, the city’s smaller high schools are among its best-run successes.”

Quite a leap of faith from this statement to the conclusion that size (large) of Hillhouse and Wilbur Cross are the key drivers of their poor performance. It seems logical that a smaller school allows better management and interaction but I submit that the size of the facilities is not the driver.  If current sizes are too big what prevents having two schools within a single structure with separate principals, curricula, etc., and shared services such as cafeteria, libraries, sports facilities, etc.

I cannot bring myself to conclude that bricks and mortar are what is holding us back. If that were so we should be in thetoptierofschoolperformance.Harry

posted by: Carl Goldfield on May 18, 2012  5:22pm

I run regularly on the track at Bowen field in the morning. Many people from the neighborhood use it to walk and run. There is often a women’s exercise class using it. Its useful life is over. The surface of the track is pockmarked with deep pits. Some kid running a race (if they still use it for that purpose) is going to catch a toe and take a flier.

Additionally the concrete bleachers on the North side of the field are so deteriorated that they have been closed off.

I don’t know whether we need to spend $1 million to study the design of a new field, but we certainly need to repair what is there. It will become unusable in the not too distant future if left to deteriorate.

Hillhouse students deserve a decent football field and stands and an outdoor track in good shape.

Bowen’s condition would never be tolerated in any of the better off suburbs.

posted by: anonymous on May 18, 2012  6:01pm

Carl - Good point. So why are we building new schools if we can’t maintain what we have?

Every single building is falling apart. If taxpayers could see the level of deterioration that is occurring, they would be shocked—and we would be seeing a very different story coming out of the Mayor’s office right now.

At some point, people will be held accountable for their decisions.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 18, 2012  6:05pm

It would be great for each kid to have their own personal tutor as well, because it would, without a doubt, close the achievement gap. Unfortunately, we can’t afford that either. As a 2007 graduate of Wilbur Cross I can attest to the great teachers in the school that every student has access to. There is nothing inherently inferior about New Haven’s comprehensive high schools. The poor student performance that you referenced is a result of the particular make-up of the student population that happens to attend the school, not of the school’s faculty, curriculum or facilities. Reducing the size of schools has a marginal effect on performance. The difference is in the parents who are actively involved in their children’s lives and work hard to get their kids into certain schools. That says more about the home life of students than the actual schools. In all likelihood, the kids who have active parents will succeed regardless of the school they attend. It just so happens that the kids with involved parents go to certain schools that the parents perceive as “better”, even though they have almost identical curricula, administrative structures, quality of teachers, facilities, etc.

posted by: notty on May 18, 2012  8:18pm

Carl i agree with you, maybe not a million, but it would be nice to see bowen field rehabbed. My oldest son use to play football for Hillhouse and it was an embarrassment when suburban schools would play Hillhouse at home. The field has a lot of potential so i encourage the Board to reconsider fixing it up. Also, why build a new helene grant, that is wasteful spending, rehabbed it like they did Cross High and Hillhouse for less money. Revaluation, i agree with Justin on that one, something need to be done to help thoses new haven residents who taxes went through the roof and the residents who property value took a nose dive. This new board doesnt seem to have a clude.

posted by: SLP on May 18, 2012  8:37pm

HDavid: If I understand you correctly, it seems you assume school “size” refers primarily to square footage, but I think for most people, school “size” refers to number of students. I agree that bricks and mortar are not, for the most part, what holds us back in New Haven, thanks to the school reconstruction program (which has, however, largely bypassed city high schools). On the other hand, regardless of size, effective schools, like families, painstakingly build a distinctive, self-contained culture that cannot necessarily survive an arbitrary merger. It just isn’t that simple.

Somewhat related topic: a recent NHRegister article on merging schools without forethought about enrollment: http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2012/05/15/news/new_haven/doc4fb3014a2ac33762657599.txt.

posted by: FrontStreet on May 20, 2012  12:02am

With regard to the state of New Haven tracks and athletic fields, the city needs to keep a better eye on how the facilities are used.  For example, Wilbur Cross had a very nice track about five years ago but is prematurely aged due, unfortunately, to the many bikes and scooters that parents let their children ride around the track (sorry to sound like a grinch but there are signs at the entrances to the track asking people not to ride bikes on the track).  And as for Rice Fields, well, various pick up games and then the annual Ecuadorian tournament pretty much tear those fields up.

posted by: hdavid on May 20, 2012  10:06am

SLP:“If I understand you correctly, it seems you assume school “size” refers primarily to square footage, but I think for most people, school “size” refers to number of students. I agree that bricks and mortar are not, for the most part, what holds us back in New Haven, thanks to the school reconstruction program”

Far be it. School size is primarily a question of student census and the organizational structures that size itself prescribes.  True for schools as for business and other enterprises.
No. I was referring to school population and trying to separate the issues of school population from school square footage.  If we can have a shopping mall with a food place, a boutique and a physical fitness place all in one structure it should be possible—not ideal but feasible—to create two smaller school populations within one structure with completely separate administrative structures from the principal on down. They can share some facilities that do not compromise learning.

You would not design this way if you were designing from scratch. But after you spend $50MM to build a Taj Mahal High School and then find the student population is fewer than the number designed for, AND we have a proposal to build a new school, then it is imperative we consider intelligent alternatives.


posted by: SLP on May 20, 2012  4:03pm

hdavid: Fair enough, but which is the Taj Mahal (or, really, any) New Haven high school that is so far below capacity that it can wholesale accommodate another high school?

Jonathan Hopkins: No need for snide remarks about personal tutors. I am very familiar with Cross and NHPS, am glad they’ve yielded articulate, supportive alumni such as you, and agree with much of what you say. (Though since you graduated, Cross has wanted to bring enrollment down to levels more appropriate to the physical plant and staffing, so I’m not sure you’d find support there for your school-size opinion.) In any case, my primary point was that it’s not automatically a good idea to “smoosh” disparate school programs and cultures together just because the numbers might indicate it’s possible—which is what I fear the BoA is looking for by directing the BoE to study combining high schools.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 21, 2012  11:32am

“In any case, my primary point was that it’s not automatically a good idea to ‘smoosh’ disparate school programs and cultures together just because the numbers might indicate it’s possible”

I think what several of us are arguing is that the numbers - in terms of the amount of money available in the budget - mandate that we make large cuts in various places, including in the BOE. In all likelihood, we will need to substantially change how we provide services, raise revenues, and run the city government in coming years to deal with our debt problem. Perhaps the changes can come from other places besides the education budget, but I doubt it.