Mayor Toni Harp Monday released a proposed $525 million general fund budget for the coming fiscal year that boosts spending on libraries and school-based nurses while avoiding a tax increase.
In fact, some New Haveners would see taxes go slightly down — car taxes, which under a new state law will be capped at 32 mills. The overall mill rate would remain at 41.55.
The administration by law needed to present a budget by Tuesday to the Board of Alders, which will now commence months of deliberations on it.
“With a solid financial foundation, all plans are possible,” Harp declared at a City Hall press conference.
Her proposed budget would raise the city’s contribution to the public schools by $5 million over this year, to $185 million. The Board of Ed voted last week to seek a $7.5 million increase.
The proposed budget would add seven school-based nurse positions as well as three city librarians.
In addition, the Harp administration plans to add $6 milliion to shore up the city’s various medical and pension plans. “We’re really proud we can do something in these areas. Many cities cannot,” Harp said.
The overall budget comes in roughly $17.5 million over the current year’s budget. Here’s the mayor’s full budget proposal, including department-by-department breakdowns.
Three big factors enabled Harp to propose increases without raising taxes:
• The city is counting on state aid to increase by $15.6 million as a new law takes effect governing the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) formula for reimbursing cities for tax-exempt properties. Harp and city finance officials said they’re still counting on that money even though the state is preparing massive cuts to plug a sudden $1 billion deficit for the coming year. If that changes, Harp said, then the city would make cuts, too. On WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program Monday, Mayor Harp said she believes New Haven’s clout at the state Capitol — both State Senate President Martin Looney and State Rep. Toni Walker, co-chair of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, come from the city — augurs well for protecting that money. Reached Monday afternoon, Rep. Walker said it’s too early to know for sure. She envisions some cuts to cities, probably in education, but not necessarily in PILOT. “It’s going to be difficult. I can’t guarantee anything right now,” Walker said. “Right now we’re still going through the reviewing process. We all want to keep the funding for the cities. It’s not going to be pretty whatever comes out ... A lot of people feel the only thing we can do is cut our way out of the problem.” She said she’d like to see the state explore alternative ideas like legalizing, and taxing, marijuana.
• The Harp administration is expecting income from building permit fees to hit $15 million this year because of development projects planned by Yale and Yale-New Haven Hospital, among others. The city took in $12 million in permit fees this year and $17 million the year before, according to Budget Director Joe Clerkin. Both those totals exceeded city budget estimates.
• The hiring of three new firefighter classes has slashed overtime costs. A year ago overtime costs sometimes topped $250,000 a week, Harp said. Now they’re running at about $30,000 a week, according to city Controller Daryl Jones. He said the proposed budget conservatively estimates the weekly cost at $36,000.
Jones said the city’s not adding to the rainy day fund this year, which it increased to $1.2 million last year (which was higher than before, but still far below industry standards). Jones and Clerkin said the higher priority this year was to shore up retirement and medical funds.
Harp discussed the proposed new budget on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” Monday. Click on or download the above sound file to listen to the full interview. The episode included discussion of her trip last week to Montreal, the fate of local development projects, the opening of Alexion Pharmaceuticals, and affordable and “affordable” housing, in addition to the budget discussion.
Monday’s episode of “Dateline New Haven” was made possible in partnership with Gateway Community College.