Harp Budget Holds Line On Taxes

Paul Bass PhotoMayor 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.

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posted by: StevenInglese on March 1, 2016  8:39am

This is great news, but let’s not take are eye off the fact we’re still significantly dependent on the State.  We are in unprecedented times with the amount of new private development going on in the city and we can’t expect this level of new construction to continue.  With that said, one time revenue sources like building permit fees can quickly vanish. Let’s use these relative good times to make the structural changes to our budget to become less dependent on outside forces and hold the line on spending as much as possible.

posted by: robn on March 1, 2016  9:33am

I’d like to hear more about how the savings from diminishing school construction payments are being rolled into what may actualy be an expanding budget.

posted by: Noteworthy on March 1, 2016  9:48am

This budget makes the same mistake then legislator Toni Harp made for years while in Hartford. She took excess money and even funds when there wasn’t a real excess, and spent it on budgets and programs that required it to continue to be spent even if revenues tanked.

The primary reason there is not a tax increase with increased spending, is because of building permit fees. It may seem that the gravy train will not end, but it will. It always does. Why spend a lot more money, or go into expensive master leases, when you can pay cash or pay down existing liabilities. There is an opportunity for the city to be less dependent on the state and not to live paycheck to paycheck. Rather than choose the prudent, Mayor Harp proposes to repeat the mistakes of her legislative career - spend every dime there is. Meanwhile in Hartford, the state is looking at a billion dollar budget deficit and billions in budget deficits from previous years which were only bridged by two of the largest tax increases in history.

posted by: ILivehere on March 1, 2016  10:01am

Why are we spinning this as no tax increase. There is a 17.5 million dollar increase. Wouldn’t hold the line imply the bottom expense line is not going up. Sure the mill rate is staying the same but we are increasing spending that’s the big problem. Our mill rate is double what it needs to be in order to keep family’s from moving to the burbs for usable schools.

posted by: webblog on March 1, 2016  1:29pm

How does this proposal, conceals a no mill rate increase, while at the same time request 22 NEW full time and five NEW part time positions( from 1488- 1515 GF personnel) at a cost of 1,3M, not including benefits, qualify as:
“Holding the line”, that’s a joke, right? It really labels the BOA and the taxpayers as just plain stupid.

While the Mayor claims overtime reduction as a credit, those so called reductions wind up being a 100% increase in actual overtime spending at the close of the fiscal year.

The Mayors overall GF budget amounts to a 17,5M increase in spending, an amount which equals the same 17.5M increase from the state for pilot and a reduction in auto tax from 41.5 mill to 32 mills.
Therefore, receiving an increase, then immediately spending every time dime of that increase is hardly “holding the line”. It does not offer us a sorely needed mill rate reduction.

And that’s only the general fund, we also are facing an increase in bond debt spending, from 2016 @ 41.6M to 2017 @46.9M, which includes the BOE proposal for New Strong prep school at SCSU for 10.6M, the same proposal that was rejected by the BOA in the current 2016 budget.

That also hardly qualifies as “holding the line”.