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How To Save $3 Million

by Thomas MacMillan | May 8, 2013 12:13 pm

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

Posted to: City Hall, City Budget

Thomas MacMillan Photo Don’t hire a “tweeter” for the police department. Keep a closer eye on overtime. Leave two bridge tender positions vacant.

City lawmakers Tuesday night began looking into those and other possibilities for budget savings for the next fiscal year.

The consideration occurred at a meeting of the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee, which is steaming toward the end of its review of the mayor’s proposed $503 million city operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The budget includes a property tax increase, which aldermen are working to avoid.

Which means they have to find additional budget cuts, new revenues, or both.

Board President Jorge Perez of the Hill came to Tuesday’s meeting with several ideas about where aldermen could look for savings to lower the mill rate. He stressed that he was not advocating for or against any of the measure he brought up, only presenting them to see if the committee wants to look into them further.

The committee decided it does.

The committee decided to look for possible savings in several areas: Not filling positions that are currently vacant, not hiring people for new positions added in the proposed budget, reducing or eliminating the $3 million increase requested by the Board of Ed, and doing the same to a $1.4 million increase requested by the police department.

Aldermen did not make any concrete proposals about any of these areas; they simply flagged them as places to start looking for savings.

All resultant budget amendment proposals are due to be submitted by 10 a.m. on Monday. Next Thursday, the Finance Committee will hold a final meeting to consider amendments and vote the budget on to the full Board of Aldermen.

Vacancies: $2M

Tuesday night’s meeting started off with good news from Budget Director Joe Clerkin (pictured). He reported that $5.2 million in projected cuts to state funding will not happen. That means the property tax increase in the mayor’s budget is 3.5 mills instead of 4.5.

Clerkin passed out a list of currently vacant staff positions compiled at the request of Alderman Perez. The city currently has 36 vacant positions in several city departments, totaling just under $2 million. The list includes a city controller, assessor, labor relations director, supervising librarian, two parks department caretakers and a tree trimmer, a river keeper, deputy public works director, refuse laborer, two bridge tenders, and a building inspector, among other jobs.

Not on the list are the many vacancies among sworn employees of the fire and police departments: cops and firefighters. Perez said the fire department has about 80 vacancies. If, for example, 46 come out of the academy in August, the city could take one month of attrition cuts to their salaries in July, Perez said. If the other 34 aren’t filled until, say, nine months later, the city could make attrition cuts there as well, Perez said, using hypothetical numbers.

East Rock Alderwoman Jessica Holmes said the committee should look for attrition savings and get a clear picture from department heads about what staffing is absolutely vital.

OT Scrutiny

Perez also suggested the Finance Committee may want to keep police and fire overtime spending on a short leash.

“We may want to have all the chiefs here every month,” he said.

“What kind of real controls do we have?” asked Hill Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks, chair of the Finance Committee. “If you need a cop, you need a cop.”

“Just putting a light on it works,” said Perez. It’s worked in the past, he said. Scrutiny from aldermen helped reduce police overtime by a third in the past, he said. “It’s going to take the whole committee taking a more active role.”

New Positions: $445K

The committee next considered the new positions in the mayor’s proposed budget: a chief operating officer for the Finance Department, five school crossing guards, an administrative assistant and four neighborhood specialists for the Livable City Initiative (LCI). The LCI positions had been paid for out of special funds; the budget calls for shifting them to general fund employees.

Also on the list is a new non-sworn public information officer, or “tweeter” as Perez (pictured) said, quoting Independent commenter Cedar Hill Resident’s name for the new social media coordinator the chief proposed for the police department.

All together the new positions amount to $445,073.

After some discussion, aldermen agreed to look into eliminating all the new positions except the crossing guards. Aldermen Doug Hausladen and Justin Elicker sought more information about the necessity of the crossing guard positions.

Alderwoman Holmes asked about the new chief operating officer position, and whether it is being created as a spot for Mike O’Neill, the current acting comptroller. O’Neill is not eligible to serve as permanent controller since he lives out of town.

Clerkin said after the meeting that the chief operating officer position is not proposed as a job for any specific person, but because it’s necessary for the Finance Department.

Cops: $500K In Overtime

Clerkin also passed out a breakdown of the $1.4 million increase to the police department budget, a breakdown prepared at Perez’s request. The list includes $500,000 in overtime, $400,000 in salary, $50,000 for a new “tweeter,” $225,000 for gasoline, 100,000 for weapons and ammunition, $25,000 for utilities, and $50,000 for upgrading the Wintergreen armory.

“The only leeway we really have here is overtime, and maybe gas,” Perez said.

If overtime is cut, that may mean fewer cops walking in neighborhoods, warned East Rock Alderman Elicker (pictured).

Not necessarily, said Perez. Only about a third of police overtime is in patrol cops, he said.

The meeting closed with an admonition from Chairwoman Jackson-Brooks for aldermen to have their budget amendment proposals in by Monday at 10 a.m.

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posted by: Curious on May 8, 2013  1:05pm

1.  Social media is also how other cities (Baltimore, Philly) are combating their dirt bike problems; a “tweeter” can help connect citizens to that effort.  It could also help people get to know the cops in their areas, get to trust them, help them be connected.

2. How can the city operate with a COO?  That sounds irresponsible…the board of alderman is trying to fix the financial mess we are in and they won’t hire someone to run the Finance Department?  Does anyone else think that is insane?  If they are worried it’s a spot for an out of towner, just slap the same restriction on the COO position - MUST live in town.  Done.  Hire someone with a finance education to work full-time to run the finance department for crying out loud, don’t leave it to part-time alders with no background in finance.  Ugh.

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on May 8, 2013  1:29pm

50k for a tweeting position sounds nice. I think who ever is in that position should have more responsibilities than just tweeting though.

I even reached out to Dave Hartman to assist him (volunteer) and show him how to use social media. Why pay anyone to tweet; I’ll do that for free. Just give me a parking spot outside the PD if I need to come inside,and we are good.

posted by: anonymous on May 8, 2013  1:41pm

Why can’t more positions be limited to residents only?

The city’s finances wouldn’t be in such rough shape if a few more of our highly paid staff were required to live here.

posted by: HhE on May 8, 2013  2:32pm

Ah, anonymous’ magic notion that if only New Haven were a self contained entity it would could self sustain.  More residency requirements would reduce the pool of qualified candidates, and thus the quality of city services.  This in turn would reduce the value for money of our taxes. 

The everyone-for-them-self mind set of Home Rule is why New Haven is in such dire financial straits.  That, and corruption and over spending..

posted by: anonymous on May 8, 2013  2:57pm

HhE, I haven’t seen any evidence that requiring a few more employees to live in New Haven (which we already do for certain positions) would have any impact on the quality of city services overall. 

Theoretically there might be fewer qualified candidates, but the returns might include more people invested in neighborhoods, local volunteering, tutoring after hours, and spending their taxpayer-funded salaries at local businesses.

Anyhow, a combination of requirements where we can (like the Mayor’s job and others) and “incentives” for others (like creating large teacher/police homebuyer grants combined with a large tax on commuter parking) is probably the best mix for now, until State laws change.

posted by: Curious on May 8, 2013  3:12pm

Why residency requirements anyway?  Why are we using a stick and not a carrot?

Why not, for city employees living in New Haven that are getting satisfactory marks on job performance, a 5% or 10% reduction on their city taxes?

posted by: teacherteacher on May 8, 2013  10:38pm

I am an employee of the city as well as a resident. I rent my home and would love to purchase a home in New Haven. I do not want to live in the suburbs, but property taxes, home costs, safety, etc. may eventually drive my husband and I to, say, Hamden. I am exactly the kind of thirtysomething resident New Haven should be doing more to keep here! Teachers who live where they work are more tuned into the community, become stakeholders, and do a better job. They also pay property taxes here instead of somewhere else. They have shorter commutes. Everyone wins.

There was talk of incentives for teachers and other city employees to purchase homes in New Haven. Why has it fizzled out?

posted by: Noteworthy on May 8, 2013  11:12pm

This is a good start. I hope the questions raised actually turn into action and the spending side of this budget is significantly reduced. We employ too many firefighters, too many cops and they both rack up more overtime than is necessary. There should be a non-critical hiring freeze in the city. And every program that gets funding, including the sacred cows of street outreach workers should be examined for efficiencies and some idea of whether they are working. With 49 gangs operating in the city - I would suggest it’s not working at all but we sure are paying.

posted by: HhE on May 9, 2013  8:38am

Anonymous, so the absence of evidence is evidence of absence?  I do not have a survey or peer reviewed study, but I do have my own experience.  Of all the teaching positions I held, I would have taken only one if their was a residency requirement.  In that case, I already resided in the town where the position was.  Yes, this is an antidote, and a non scientific example.

Well said, teacherteacher.  I have a friend who teaches in New Haven, lives down the street from me, and is moving out of the city, leaving behind a house that she, her family, and friends have done so much wonderful work on.  Her reasoning?  She is not going to send her kids to a bad school, and her children are wait listed at two magnets too deep to take that kind of risk.

Maybe the right answer is too make our city as attractive as possible, possibly including incentives like school choice for city employees.  Curtailing the quantity, and thus quality, of candidates is not the way forward.

I opine that the reason we pay workers is the value of their work, and not as an entitlement program or largeness.  Public sector employees are not owed a job, any more than they owe a city their pay.

posted by: Curious on May 9, 2013  10:13am

Well said, HhE.

posted by: mstratton on May 9, 2013  2:56pm

It just isn’t that hard to save 3 million. We have 10 fire stations in New Haven. We are only an 18 square mile city! We have 400 plus firemen and yet only 200 fires a year, and that includes a lot of brush fires! Each one of these firehouses must be staffed with a large number of people every shift per union contract. The best way to save money is to simply close 3-4 stations and cut the number of firemen. We could save 15 million a year by simply closing 4 stations, and that not to mention the tens of millions we would save later on through not having to fund pensions. This is not a crazy rant. The support for this notion lies with the National Fire Protection Association—the leading standards organization—they say a city needs only 1 fireman for every 800 to 1000 residents. New Haven has one fireman for every 250 residents and most of them don’t live in new Haven its an outrage. Why do they survive? Because they have supported Destefano hugely in every election. This year they will likely support Harp or Fernandez—the non-democracy fund candidates. Wake up Board and get rid of these unnecessary firehouses. We are hurting New haven’s ability to attract new homeowners and businesses.

posted by: anonymous on May 9, 2013  3:51pm

“Public sector employees are not owed a job, any more than they owe a city their pay.”

This is a very easy claim to make if you live in a neighborhood such as East Rock, Morris Cove, or Westville, which attract their fair share of well-paid public sector employees and generally are not dominated by crumbling infrastructure and slumlords.

posted by: HhE on May 9, 2013  8:49pm

anonymous, you rather give the game away with “fair share of well-paid public sector employees.”  This sort of spoils system is the same kind of rot as our pay to play and the wards-whose-BoA-members-toe-the-line get-the-services-they-need rot that is killing this city. 

The only reason to hire a teacher is to teach.  The only reason to hire a firefighter is to save lives and property.  The only reason to hire a cop is public safety.  The only reason to hire someone to work in city hall is to provide a service.

posted by: Threefifths on May 9, 2013  9:25pm

For those who say “Public sector employees are not owed a job, any more than they owe a city their pay.”

Public Sector Employees take was is call a civil service exam for these public jobs.

posted by: Edward Francis on May 9, 2013  10:39pm

mstratton states “The best way to save money is to simply close 3-4 stations and cut the number of firemen.”  Really! What stations would you close?  Lets start with Westville and eliminate the Fountain Street Station. Doesn’t seem like a good idea.  How about the Dixwell Station on Goffe Street? What do you think about that one mstratton? Lets venture over to Ellsworth Avenue and take out that firehouse.  No resident or taxpayer from that area would complain - would they mstratton!  What about the Hill Fire Station on Howard Avenue. Is that one of your choices for closure?  We just covered the western part of the city and it doesn’t seem viable to close any of these stations.

How about Central Station in downtown New Haven.  The firefighters in that huge concrete building responds to the high-rise, high value district of the city.  Lets mosey over to the East Battalion Headquarters on Lombard Street and eliminate the fire protection in Fair Haven.  Is that a good idea mstratton? Perhaps we could cross over the Grand Avenue bridge (if its not open) to the Fire Station on East Grand Avenue that responds to the Fair Haven Heights and the highly populated Foxon area and take that one out of service. Or travel east over the Ferry Street bridge (if it’s not open) and consider eliminating the Fire Station on Woodward Avenue in the Annex neighborhood.  No one would care would they? What about the Morris Cove neighborhood and the Fire Station on Lighthouse Road that also is first in on any incidents at Tweed New Haven Airport.  Do you think that station and community should be sacrificed?  Lets not forget the tenth station in the city located on Whitney Avenue. They cover the East Rock/Goatville neighborhood.  Take a ride through that district and survey the real estate including several schools, high value large homes, multi-family homes, apartments professional offices, stores, Yale buildings and many more.

posted by: HhE on May 9, 2013  11:22pm

3/5ths, Firefighters and Police take civil service exams, Teachers do not.  Anon is once again arguing for residency requirements, while I am arguing for selection based upon competency, with as wide (unrestricted) pool as possible. 

Your point?

posted by: Threefifths on May 10, 2013  10:05am

posted by: HhE on May 9, 2013 11:22pm
3/5ths, Firefighters and Police take civil service exams, Teachers do not.  Anon is once again arguing for residency requirements, while I am arguing for selection based upon competency, with as wide (unrestricted) pool as possible.

Your point?

You and others said Public sector employees are not owed a job, any more than they owe a city their pay.My point is your statement was not true.There are some public sector employees Like Teachers who do not take a civil service exam and also school nurses and school social workers.But the major of public sector workers take a exam for there jobs.So what is your point.

My bad You can always go back to the Spoils system.

http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Spoils_system.html

posted by: HhE on May 10, 2013  11:38am

Threefifths, I get you wish to take issue with me, that on atl east two occasions you said as much.  However, I think you rather missed the point.  I am objecting using civic employment as a wealth redistribution tool.

posted by: Threefifths on May 10, 2013  12:06pm

posted by: HhE on May 10, 2013 11:38am

Threefifths, I get you wish to take issue with me, that on atl east two occasions you said as much.  However, I think you rather missed the point.  I am objecting using civic employment as a wealth redistribution tool.

Who says people use civic employment as a wealth redistribution tool.The people I talk to use civic employment for benfits.In fact just like me they use to work in the private sector and left the private sector due to the benfits like the B.S. 401K.Again you or anyone can take the civil service exam.

posted by: Threefifths on May 10, 2013  12:10pm

@HHE Would you say that the crooked Bankers and HegdeFunders who are private sector workers are using private sector employment as a wealth redistribution tool?

posted by: HhE on May 10, 2013  10:45pm

3/5ths, in regards to your 12:06pm post, anon is advocating residency requirements for public sector jobs as a form of wealth distribution.  I agree that the public sector typically has better benefits than the private:  health plans, pensions vs. defined contribution, and better vacations. 

In regards to your 12:10pm post, it is not relevant at all.  As a rule, private sector employees produce more value for their employers, or they get the sack. 

Then again, public moneys were used to bail out two US automakers in order to save jobs, and thus this was a form of wealth redistribution.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 11, 2013  12:11am

Edward Francis:

How many firehouses we need or don’t need is not a matter for the public to decide. It’s a leadership and fiduciary issue. New Haven far outpaces the national average of firefighters to residents. Which houses to close? Easy. You close the ones that answer the fewest fire calls and that house the smallest force, where their duties can be easily absorbed. In my mind, that includes Fountain Street, Whitney Avenue and Lighthouse. All those houses have other operations nearby. We not only don’t need these firehouses, we don’t need the overhead and payroll. The budgeted positions are overstaffed by about 30%. Overtime is crazy high constituting more than 26% of the overall budget. With chronic underfunding of pensions and healthcare, it is simply unsustainable and more importantly, unnecessary.

The same is true for the police and overstaffing there is even worse with a gross amount of overtime that exceeds $100K per week.

posted by: Threefifths on May 11, 2013  10:31am

posted by: HhE on May 10, 2013 10:45pm

In regards to your 12:10pm post, it is not relevant at all.  As a rule, private sector employees produce more value for their employers, or they get the sack.

Public Workers can be sack as long as due process is followed.When the head of these private sector companies get sack,Look at the golden parachutes that they get.Also private sector has a high rate of nepotism.

posted by: Edward Francis on May 11, 2013  3:38pm

Noteworthy states “How many firehouses we need or don’t need is not a matter for the public to decide. It’s a leadership and fiduciary issue.” Where does this leadership come from?  I say the Mayor, Board of Fire Commissioners, Fire Chief, and Board of Aldermen. When you post “Noteworthy” you seem to have all the answers. Your response is full of holes when it comes to fire house locations and their response to the community.  You have no clue about fire department leadership, response to suppression calls, hazardous materials, emergency medical calls, building collapse, carbon monoxide responses, flooding, automobile fires/accidents and numerous other demands on the firefighters. I doubt if one of the fire stations you say can be closed is in your neighborhood.  There is an old adage “Support your firefighter - the life they save may be yours”.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 12, 2013  12:55pm

Edward Francis:

Yes, the leadership you listed are the ones to make the decision about firehouses and staffing. That list includes the current mayor and the Board of Fire Commissioners which until recently included Boise Kimber. Between those two men, they endorsed discrimination which cost taxpayers more than $10 million once all the legal, settlement fees and pension sweetners are consolidated.

In listing all the firehouses previously though, you asked how the public would feel about it. Since one of those firehouses is not far from my house, I can tell you it doesn’t matter to me. Just a few short blocks away are two more firehouses. What we need are enough firehouses and firemen to protect and rescue us, but not so many that we have excess payroll.

The fire department has long been used for political patronage and for politics. Remember DeStefano posing with the NHFD on city land, with city equipment? Or the promise of city fire jobs that were printed on cards, and then employees were sent around to go door to door with the aldermen? 

I support the fire department. Just because I support them, doesn’t not mean the department should be staffed above national averages, or paid more than the national average, or that they enjoy endless overtime in the millions of dollars in order to cover firehouses we don’t need.

posted by: Edward Francis on May 12, 2013  6:55pm

Noteworthy states “Just a few short blocks away are two more firehouses”. There are no fire stations in the City of New Haven just a few short blocks away from one another.  Again you are rambling on and on. If you want to eliminate the fire protection for the citizens of New Haven make your facts known to the Alderman/woman in your ward.  Talk with the Mayor of the City of New Haven.  Request a hearing with the Board of Fire Commissioners.  Speak to the fire chief. Go to the “Management Team” meeting in your district and bring the subject up.  Let your neighbors know of the Fire Houses you want to close. Your postings in the New Haven Independent for the most part are falling on deaf ears. You include too much political rhetoric.  For me - the Fire Department is just a 911 call away. I prefer the quick response not the type of delay you are endorsing.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 13, 2013  9:24pm

Edward:

I am not advocating taking away fire protection. I’m advocating bringing it in line with our needs. More than 85% of the time, trucks are not rolling to fires. They’re rolling to medical calls at which no firemen transports anybody anywhere. We need to turn the fire department into a department that serves the citizens, not the other way around. As for the fire stations being a few short blocks away from each other - indeed, in some cases that is true. Some are as close as 1.4 miles from each other. None are more than 2.5 miles and those are straight shots like Woodward to Lighthouse Road Station. Maybe you save a station, but don’t have a truck there. Maybe it’s just an ambulance crew only.

As for talking to the chief, or going to management meetings - I can think of no bigger waste of time. My taxes pay extraordinary salaries to firemen in general and to the fire chief in particular. My expectation as a taxpayer, is that our employees deliver quality service that is aligned both with our needs and our wallets; that they review their performance and the costs of it.

What I know is this: The NHFD costs too much, is inefficient and has not changed with the times or our evolving needs. A minimum of one station can be easily closed, and probably more. The NHFD budgeted head count can be reduced by at least 20% to bring it in line with your brother departments across the country. There is zero reason for having excess force here. I also know taxpayers are broke and getting more so everyday. You may not like it but that’s the truth and even with the reduction, the fire department will still be a 911 call away.

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