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Elicker Would Meet With Department Heads

by Thomas MacMillan | Aug 20, 2013 5:31 pm

(27) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Campaign 2013

Thomas MacMillan Photo (Updated with a response from Harp.) With the city’s bond ratings tanking and its “rainy day fund” drying up, mayoral candidate Justin Elicker vowed to sit down with all city department heads and find ways to trim the budget.

Elicker made the pledge at an afternoon press conference outside of Board of Ed headquarters at 54 Meadow St., where he was joined by about 20 campaign supporters. He said he’s the candidate who’s best equipped to right the city’s fiscal ship. He pointed to his record as an alderman who has repeatedly sought cuts to the city budget.

The East Rock alderman began by laying out the problem: The city is headed toward a negative fund balance; it has over $500 million in debt; debt service comprises 13 percent of the budget; pension costs have tripled; and ratings agencies are appraising the city accordingly.

“Are we Detroit?” Elicker asked, referring to that city’s recent bankruptcy filing. “Yes. We are the Detroit of 10 years ago.”

“Who is prepared to handle this situation?” Elicker asked. He offered two options: himself or mayoral candidate Toni Harp. He didn’t mention the other two candidates in the race, Kermit Carolina and Henry Fernandez. All four are competing in a Sept. 10 Democratic primary.

Elicker said Harp’s 20-year record as a state senator shows she is not prepared: State debt has ballooned to the point where Connecticut has the highest public debt per capita of any state in the nation. Elicker said ratings agencies have downgraded state bonds citing high debt and an inability to rebuild the state’s fund balance.

“Does this sound familiar?” Elicker said. Those are the same reasons cited by agencies downgrading the city’s bonds, he said.

“Toni doesn’t have a plan,” he said.

In a press release Tuesday evening, Harp responded to Elicker’s comments.

“It took hard work, negotiations and an extensive knowledge of budgeting to right the state’s fiscal ship,” Harp said in the release. “Justin is dangerously unaware of how budgeting works. His so-called ‘plan’ is to meet with every city department head.  He says he will cut but he doesn’t say where. I have publicly stated I will introduce cost savings through the elimination of duplication of services as well as consolidations and spending cuts where possible.”

Elicker said he fought parking meter monetization, has repeatedly offered amendments to trim city budgets, and has tried to stop the city from relying on one-time revenues to balance budgets, such as the sale of city streets to Yale.

He seized on a Harp quote in which she said she hasn’t “been able to get [her] hands on the budget in an in-depth way.”

Elicker held up a copy of the city budget. “I have my hands all over this budget,” he proclaimed. He said he knows it so well he makes YouTube videos to explain it.

In Tuesday evening’s release from the Harp campaign, she leaped on Elicker’s “hands” comment. “On the one hand he is bemoaning the drop in the bond rating—which we are all concerned about,” Harp said in the release. “But in the same breath he says he was a big part of the budget that is the problem. That should concern voters. We have a serious budget problem and we need someone with experience in handling the worst possible problems not more empty platitudes.”

Elicker said the city needs to focus on short-term and long-term solutions to the current budget crunch. “I’ll reach out to department heads,” he said. Elicker said he would sit down with department heads and find out where they could find savings or increase revenue.

Like other candidates, Elicker said he would look to cut administrators in the Board of Ed.

“The difference is I’ve shown I’m willing to cut things,” Elicker said later.

Elicker didn’t say specifically where he would cut. Instead, he offered examples of how he would approach the task. He said he would, for instance, take a look at the office of the corporation counsel and see if it’s more efficient to hire contract attorneys or have them in house. If he were looking at the traffic department, for instance, he wouldn’t cut parking enforcement officials (formerly known as “meter maids”), since they generate revenue. He would instead look at the department’s administrators. Elicker said he would have all departments do cost-benefit analyses on leasing vs. buying when it comes to expenditures.

Elicker offered a couple of ways the city could increase revenue: Rent out the Lighthouse Park carousel building for functions more often, regionalize the city’s 911 call center, and, as Chief Dean Esserman discussed Monday night, determine which police department positions could be filled by civilians, to put more cops on the street and cut down on overtime.

Elicker said he’d also change the way the city borrows money, by putting a cap on annual borrowing. “If we stick to issuing around $20 to 25 million in debt each year, out debt service payments will quickly reduce, which will free up more in the general fund budget.”

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posted by: robn on August 20, 2013  5:40pm

I’ve been bitching about our outrageously high taxes for years now and to be honest, Elicker was the only candidate who was honest enough to publicly state that we can make lots of cuts, but we can’t cut our way out of this problem. He’s the only one proposing an honest combination of cuts and long term incentivized growth of the tax base.

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on August 20, 2013  5:55pm

I hope he would also promise to clear out the BOE, too. The waste of time, paper, postage, and money has most of us New Haven parents steamed! They mail us ridiculous amounts of stuff, that is handed out at school, often containing incorrect information.

I got an automated call yesterday that told me to “Disregard the Blue bus postcard I received in the mail. Look out for the Pink bus postcard.” Good thing I’m smart enough to disregard a postcard that tells me my daughter’s bus pickup time is at 7:30AM. Since her school starts at 7:30AM, I knew it was wrong!

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on August 20, 2013  6:36pm

Perhaps it’s the title of the article that makes his proposal less than genius.  I’m very glad to hear that he would meet with department heads and not attempt to govern by fiat, which he couldn’t do if he wanted to.  Let’s examine what’s wrong this though.

First, every mayor meets with the department heads.  And every department head makes an argument not to trim his or her budget.  So, he is proposing nothing new and has not proposed any new cuts not offered by Senator Harp, Mr. Fernandez, or Chief Esserman.  So, congrats on reinventing the circle.

Second, the mayor has the ability to appoint many department heads and I don’t see Mr. Elicker getting rid of that discretion.  So, in theory, his meetings may be nothing more than a pro forma conversation to accomplish what he desires.

Third, the budget is a living document that impacts real people and has real life consequences.  His cavalier attitude and approach shows that he is not ready.  Indeed, before cuts can begin you must have a set of priorities.  You must as a mayor determine what is holy and what is not.  Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark and may compromise on items the people hold dearly.

posted by: ISR on August 20, 2013  6:41pm

Why is this article, which has actual news, posted on a sidebar, while the anti-bullying article, which is three days stale,  featured in the main thread?

posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 20, 2013  7:34pm

I am with you ISR!!

Reminder to journalists…
“Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information.”
Edward R. Murrow

posted by: Noteworthy on August 20, 2013  7:55pm

More ShruggOff Notes:

The budget is not about what the people want - it’s about what must the city provide (police, fire and education) and what’s left. Since those three account for more than 80% of the budget, there is not much left. There are no sacred cows when you have a budget mess like this. Meeting with department heads, and requiring them to justify every position has not been done before and this would be a first.

The BOR has been told to ask these tough questions, but for the most part, they don’t. Elicker’s approach is a good first blush - but frankly, it will take a serious person to ask probative questions on needs vs. wants.

Do you really think somebody who didn’t know about any of the taxes, the liens, the slums or the shirking mortgages of the last 13 years is qualified to discuss the budget?

posted by: Claudia Herrera on August 20, 2013  8:12pm

One more time Justin is proving him self with figure theory and the ” I will fix everything”  approach shows that he is not ready at all.

Sorry but I am not want to run the risk and give the chance a well educated, good guy, with a full 6 years of living in this city who’s seeing his opportunity to be come a Mayor. 

If he wants to improve his personal profile by making a politician career that it’s fine with me. But I truthfully believe that his ambition is way to far from reality to actually he can become one(mayor). We are risking way too much for just for Justin to have his “training on the job” deal.

posted by: TheMadcap on August 20, 2013  8:13pm

On the subject of taxes, while it may not be something people want to hear, Elicker is also the only candidate who said he won’t promise any tax cuts for anyone for the near future because it’s just not something that can be guaranteed. Tough love but honest.

posted by: Gener on August 20, 2013  8:33pm

“determine which police department positions could be filled by civilians, to put more cops on the street and cut down on overtime.”
This idea makes so much sense to me.
I cringe every time I drive by a cop standing beside a minor road construction site. This would be a good job to create for many NH residents. I’m sure there must be numerous other opportunities like this that don’t require a policeman’s expertise, therefore more affordable for the city, less overtime, etc.

posted by: accountability on August 20, 2013  11:09pm

When I logged on, I thought I had been redirected to a spoof—the New Haven Onionpendent.

City budget faces problems. Mayoral candidate promises to meet with Department heads.

Nice plan. Because, you know, if Toni’s elected mayor, she won’t meet with Department heads. Amirite? Amirite?

If I want someone to deal with budget issues, I’ll take a candidate who, say, looked Marna Borgstrom in the eye and said, sorry, but you’re taking a $50 million haircut so that we can make sure people have health insurance and still balance the budget. Someone who’s actually had to balance a budget in the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s.

Someone who has shouldered actual responsibility and made actual difficult choices.

Not some joker spouting GOP austerity talking points and whose plan consists of meeting with department heads.

Vote for me becuase, um, oh yeah. Detroit! Oooooooo! Detroit! Because even though our city isn’t in anything like the jam Detroit is in, if I say the name everyone will wet their pants and vote for me. Because, you know, Detroit!!!!!!

How about this, Justin. Take the next couple of years and teach some food stamp recipients how to manage all that money they don’t have. Report back to us on how it goes, then talk to us about managing the city budget.

And lose the bogus fearmongering.

posted by: Hieronymous on August 20, 2013  11:25pm

I wasn’t there, but I’m skeptical that the headline of this article reflects the main tenor of the press conference.

Assuming the reporting is accurate, this seems like a wasted opportunity for Justin. But Harp hardly capitalized on it. Who writes her press releases? The state’s fiscal ship has been righted? “[E]limination of duplication of services as well as consolidations and spending cuts where possible”—are these more specific and realistic than what Justin discussed? Based on what I can see, he proposed exactly these solutions and a few more. And I think most sentient listeners would understand that, when Justin said he’d had his hands all over the budget, he meant that he’d studied it (unlike Harp, it appears, from her own admission), not that he wrote it. (In contrast, Harp has claimed—correctly, as far as I know—that she had a major hand in the state budget, which has been derided by all sides as “filled with gimmicks.”)

In my view, if Justin has really studied the budget, he shoudl have been a little more specific in his prescriptions, but Harp’s response is clueless.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on August 21, 2013  8:37am

Toni Harp’s accomplishments as state legislator: sustained one of the country’s highest gas taxes—increasing it this year by 16 percent; increased the sales tax from 6 percent to 6.35 percent; steeply increased the overall tax burden over 2 decades; relentlessly increased state spending—including nearly tripling the budget over two decades; significantly expanded the number of state government employees; supported the doling out of large one-shot forgivable loans and incentives to a few select companies—solely for political purposes;  helped drive the exodus of people and businesses to other states.
Forget about her husband’s tax issue:  Toni Harp herself is a poster child for fiscal mismanagement. Her record shows that a vote for Toni Harp is a vote for a Detroit-like future.

posted by: robn on August 21, 2013  8:50am

ACCOUNTABILITY,

While Harp denies the states fiscal crisis and her allies on the suburban driven union BOA supermajority continue to spend (a new $85M school….really?) Justin is, at least, willing to talk about cuts.

No matter how much the union machine tries to project the appearance of broad community support, in the last election they’ve merely gamed the electoral math of historically pathetic turnout invested enough money in propagandizing citizens to guarantee election outcomes.

This IS news in a town where, in the last election, a 20 year incumbent nearly got his @$$ handed to him by a novice who campaigned on 10% cuts across the board. New Haven taxpayers have lost their appetite for expenditure and they’re demanding smart reductions. Department heads are the first stop. IMHO, I would then go to rank and file for a similar list of cuts.

posted by: HhE on August 21, 2013  9:03am

accountability, Detroit was not Detroit until it became Detroit. 

For many years, it was a city with problems, sure, but it wasn’t bankrupt.  Then one day, there was too much pension obligations, too much barrowing, not enough tax revenue, and no other way to dig itself out of its own hole. 

I’m sure for many years, its elected leaders told the electorate, “We got this, it is okay.” while they spent money they did not have.  Then one day, the bubble burst.

We can make systemic changes now, or we can have more of the same.  One path has us spending some money on youth programs rather than a lot on police overtime.  The other seeks union endorsements through nice contracts. 

Please ask yourself, why do we not have a Yale trauma surgeon embedded in our SRT?  The answer is the unions:  the police will say, they are not sworn officers, so we are not having that, and the fire department will say, we are the first responders, and you are not taking jobs away from us. 

The sooner we get our house in order, the less this is going to hurt.  Oh, it will hurt even now, but it is only going to get worse.

posted by: anonymous on August 21, 2013  9:50am

Claudia: In this case, recency of experience is more important than duration.  Cities change very quickly. We need to be using policies from the 2000s and beyond, like those that Elicker has worked on, not rehashing failed policies from the 1980s.

On the money issue, Elicker has been deeply involved in our city budget and even makes highly-regarded videos to explain it to the general public. As a self-styled community organizer, you should be able to see the value of that. Fernandez also knows the budget, having run a department. Has Harp even read our city budget lately? She said she hadn’t had a chance to look at it, but it has always been online.

posted by: Indigo on August 21, 2013  10:13am

New Haven’s budget woes have clearly been on Justin’s mind for a long time. I trust him more than anyone else running to be HONEST about the changes that need to me made in order to put the City back on sound financial footing. Watch the 2012 video!

@Claudia Herrera, to your gripes about Justin not being ready, this is a big plus in my book! Bureaucratic experience does not tend to breed innovation. Predictably, Toni has yet to present a fresh or original idea. Have a look at cities like Ithaca that have been revived under young new mayors—many of them much younger and less experienced than Justin! Justin has run an excellent campaign and demonstrated the skills and abilities needed to be Mayor. But much more importantly, he brings fresh new ideas, no favors owed to special interests, and a new approach to government that offers everyone the opportunity to get engaged.

Folks have their loyalties and past relationships with other candidates, of course. But I’ve yet to find anyone who can say, with intellectual honestly, that they are not impressed with Justin.

That’s why, as the flyers say, people are so excited by Elicker. He has received donations from more New Haveners than any other candidate. He’s the people’s choice. And he’ll make a great Mayor.

posted by: TheMadcap on August 21, 2013  11:30am

In what world is someone with the ambitions to try to tackle a whole host of city problems considered a negative trait for a mayoral candidate? It’d be one thing if he was just blowing off hot air, but he’s so far been the candidate to release the most actual policy proposals
http://www.elicker2013.com/75-solutions

It’s the main reason I went from “maybe Justin, but maybe Henry”, to “Yeah, definitely Justin”

posted by: anonymous on August 21, 2013  11:30am

“Elicker has received donations from more New Haveners than any other candidate.”

More than all three other candidates combined, actually.

Meanwhile, according to NHI, over 80% of Harp’s funding came from outside of New Haven.

posted by: accountability on August 21, 2013  1:29pm

The Board of Aldermen passed one piece of legislation on which Justin was lead sponsor over the past two years.

One.

Uno.

An piece of legislation.

Here’s what it was: giving the city the right to go to Hartford and try to get reval phased in so that the burden of the property tax over the next several years would shift from homeowners with higher home values to homeowners with lower home values.

He failed in Hartford.

When it comes to fiscal policy, the record of actual accomplishment—not cute videos—shows that Justin takes a regressive approach to taxation. More taxes for people with fewer assets. Less taxes for people with more assets.

That’s all anyone needs to know.

posted by: anonymous on August 21, 2013  1:51pm

Accountability, do you really believe that our entire Board of Aldermen is behind a regressive tax?  That’s called jumping the shark.

The fact is, a reval phase-in is not a regressive tax.  It is the “smoothing” of a tax increase or a tax decrease over a period of a few dozen months.  Given that we do a reval only periodically, such a measure makes sense and clearly was supported by most people.

Look at the fact that it was unanimously supported by the Board of Aldermen.

“While the state delegation is mixed, aldermen interviewed Monday all said: We support the phase-in. East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker said a straw poll of the board two months ago found unanimous support for the plan. Hill Alderman Jorge Perez, president of the board, said he thinks everyone’s behind it.”

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/aldermen_back_reval_phase-in/

posted by: downtown dweller on August 21, 2013  3:23pm

@Claudia:

Elicker’s experience stacks up very well compared with that of previous mayors. DiLieto was a lifelong police officer before he became mayor: he had no experience outside policing. DeStefano was an aide for DiLieto: he did not have experience of representing constituents. Of recent mayors, only Daniels seems to have the experience you want, but he couldn’t hack it and left after four years. Elicker’s more than qualified to turn the city around.

posted by: Razzie on August 21, 2013  3:26pm

@ anon
“The fact is, a reval phase-in is not a regressive tax.  It is the “smoothing” of a tax increase or a tax decrease ...”

Here we go, again. In large measure, the reval proposal championed by Elicker was intended to address the situation presented by the dramatic increase in relative property tax values between East Rock and the less affluent neighborhoods of New Haven. When the commonly used tax assessment formula was applied to the East Rock properties it resulted in tax increases that many found to be inordinately high. Hence a “phase-in” of the assessed valuation was asked for. A “phase-in” that would have the “smoothing” effect of making East Rocker’s less affluent neighbors pick up a larger proportionate share of the overall city budget. What you refer to as a “smoothing” effect for East Rock property values was, in effect, a property tax increase for Newhallville, the Hill, Dwight, etc.

If you lived in East Rock, it was a great policy initiative—without question. However, the answer becomes more nuanced if you live in Beaver Hills. For Beaver Hills residents, answer to the question reflected more on what is the greater good for New Haven, and does it override my personal checkbook issues.

Regardless of how each person answered the question, the phase-in of reval was unquestionably a regressive approach to taxation which called upon less affluent neighborhoods the subsidize the tax burden of East Rock.

posted by: TheMadcap on August 21, 2013  3:48pm

I suppose the counter argument to the “asking poorer neighborhoods to subsidize richer neighborhoods” for the phase in is the fact the richer neighborhoods already perpetually subsidize the poorer neighborhoods, and such an unprecedented rise in property taxes at once wouldn’t be fair, and rises that steep at once could in fact drive people out of the city, especially older people who have lived there for a long time and inadvertently just caught the property value train.

Of course, from an emotional standpoint, sitting over in Dwight, or wherever anyone else is, it’s doesn’t make for a very good argument hearing people in ER, Morris Cove, Westville and such saying they want a few years to ease into their taxes. From a practical point of view though, it’s not really so radical. As the link anonymous posted showed, all of the city alderman including those from poor neighborhoods were in favor of it.

posted by: robn on August 21, 2013  3:53pm

RAZZIE,

Where your tax phase-in argument breaks down is that nobody argued about a phase-in when it eased an increase born by most of the city. Only later when a phase-in would have eased a disproportionately high increase for East Rock did people protest. So is the nuance you’re referring to looking out for each other only when it’s good for oneself?

posted by: HhE on August 21, 2013  4:08pm

Speaking as someone who benefited greatly from the most recent evaluation, it was pathetically unfair.  Is was done on the cheep and quick, and I believe their was a political motivation to what happened.  My house was grossly under valued (no I did not appeal).  I ought to be suing Russo Roofing, because what I thought was slate, is apparently asphalt shingles. 

Plenty of people have reason to hate the proposed phase in, but it was the best answer to a bad business. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Harp, maybe you ought to do your homework, and get to understand the cities’ budget.

posted by: Razzie on August 21, 2013  6:13pm

@ robn

My specific comment was addressed to the assertion by @anon that the reval was not a regressive tax. It was not my intent to reopen the argument on the merits of the reval proposal—a proposal that I myself saw merit in (and I do not live in East Rock). However, the nuances of the argument aside, there can be no doubt that the reval proposal WAS A REGRESSIVE feature calling for subsidization of a portion of East Rock’s relative tax burden. And @anon’s attempt at smoothing the issue was factually wrong. Just because the alders approved of it, that doesn’t make it any less regressive.

posted by: ohnonotagain on August 21, 2013  6:44pm

Justin Elicker keep on going! I remain impressed and a supporter. The negative comments (and not that many) actually they really don’t make much sense. It seems this race is showing that you are going head on with Ms. H…...but considering that all her ‘who cares’ endorsements are stacking up which means she is owned by many special interest groups should be a concern to all New Haveners. Further, most contributions she has received have been from people outside of New Haven and most of yours are from residents of New Haven. That in itself speaks to the fact that you are the peoples choice and no one owns your soul. You will be able to make decisions for what is best for the people and be guided by the people. She will not, as the special interest groups will be calling the shots. With the financial shape this city is in I would much rather have a mayor who knows the budget and not someone who hasn’t even looked at the budget or has any idea how to start solving the financial woes of this city. Stay strong, keep going and you are proving that loyalty to residents is what is important not outsiders to get a hand out. Thank you Justin Elicker for giving folks a real choice!

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