The ghosts of budget deliberations past—hours-long wrangling over surprise last-minute maneuvers, split votes, angry taxpayers massing with anti-government placards—vanished from City Hall as lawmakers unanimously approved close to $500 million in new spending in less than half the time of a “Saturday Night Live” episode.
Last year, protesters with placards occupied City Hall. The year before, a gadfly alderman’s last-minute insurrection stretched the budget vote out to nearly five hours.
This time, on Tuesday night, the vote was 25-0 in an expeditious special meeting of the Board of Aldermen. And a new $486.4 million city budget became law.
The meeting came at the end of months of hearings, where some opposition was heard. But those meetings were sedate, placid affairs compared to the Finance Committee hearings of years past that featured tears and acrimony. And the final vote, when it came Tuesday night, was without any 11th-hour wrangling on the floor.
What made this year so quiet? It may have been the fact that, as the mayor has pointed out, next year’s $486 million budget will mean a decrease in property taxes for most city residents because of a citywide property revaluation. The tax rate will drop from 43.9 to 38.88 mills.
Or it might be because there’s less ideological daylight between the current aldermen compared to previous cohort, and between the aldermen and the DeStefano administration. A new pro-labor supermajority has taken over the board. And so far it is getting along famously with the mayor’s office. Negotiations still take place on points of disagreement, but at least so far a reigning consensus and partnership seems to have taken hold. Tuesday night’s votes tended to be unanimous.
Another theory: The board no longer has a contrarian firebrand to mount Quixotic charges against the status quo and take up the mantle of budget watchdogs eager for cuts, as it did in former West Rock Alderman Darnell Goldson.
Or maybe the aldermanic Finance Committee simply did a good and thorough job at its own meetings and ended up with a firm and fair budget that most people like and could approve at the end of the process.
Whatever the reason, the result was that Tuesday’s budget vote was a largely pro forma affair, lasting only 40 minutes from start to finish.
On Tuesday night, Elicker contributed to one of the few moments of discussion by standing to say that he still thinks his amendments were a good idea and would offer them again, but knew he doesn’t have the votes to pass them.
After the meeting, board President Jorge Perez said this year was different from last partly because no aldermen advanced large last-minute proposals like a 10 percent across-the-board cut to the budget. Then- Aldermen Goldson did that two years ago.
Perez also said this year may be different because three quarters of New Haven homeowners are going to see a property tax reduction. The board heard from members of the 25 percent who won’t, he noted.
But even those unfortunate taxpayers didn’t bother to show up Tuesday night to watch the vote. City Hall legislative liaison Matt Smith said the Aldermanic Chamber was the emptiest he’s seen it in years on a budget night, a fact that he attributed to the tax reductions for most homeowners.
Perez, who has a much longer institutional memory (back to the 1988, when he began serving as alderman), said he’s seen it that empty before. There have been years with 20-minute budget votes, he said.
Hill Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks said she didn’t even notice how empty the chamber was. She said that if people are unhappy with the budget, they have to show up and make their voices heard.
She said the Finance Committee made what cuts it could to the mayor’s proposed budget, without sacrificing city services.
The new budget takes effect when the new fiscal year starts, on July 1.
6:47 p.m.: Aldermen are milling about here. I’m told that no one is planning to offer any amendments. But one never knows what surprises the evening may hold. [Spoiler alert: The evening held no surprises.]
6:52: Matt Smith, former alderman and current legislative liaison to the board, said this is the emptiest he’s seen the aldermanic chamber in years on a budget vote night. There are approximately two members of the public in the audience, not counting press and city officials. The reason? Smith says it’s because 73 percent of homeowners will see a property tax decrease under the new budget.
7:01: President Jorge Perez is calling the meeting to order. The city clerk is not here. Perez says he doesn’t know why. He appoints Alderman Doug Hausladen to be the clerk for the night. Hausladen calls the roll. Aldermen Gabriel Santiago and Ernie Santiago are absent, as is Alderwoman Brenda Foskey Cyrus, Aldermen Brian Wingate, and Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson.
7:03: Perez says several of those contacted him and told him they couldn’t make it for various reasons.
Majority Leader Al Paolillo begins moving through the agenda. He moves item 1A, appropriating ordinance #1, the budget’s main spending plan.
7:06: Finance Committee Chair Andrea Jackson Brooks says: The committee has held four public hearings. We consulted with colleagues neighbors and department heads. We have “crunched numbers and made proposals.” Some worked out. Others didn’t. [She thanks the committee members individually.] These individuals put in countless hours. ... [She thanks city departments.] The committee is indebted to budget director Joe Clerkin and legislative services’ Don Hayden. I thank them for their tireless work. [She thanks the public who came out to testify.] ... We hold a great responsibility. ... There is a delicate balance between not overburdening taxpayers and meeting our fiscal needs. ... We’ll begin with Appropriating Ordinance #1—maintenance for our streets, schooling for children, books for libraries etc… The Finance Committee recommends changes. [She outlines the changes laid out in the last meeting of the Finance Committee—elimination of some positions] ... Reducing the budget $389,000.
7:13: Roll call vote. It’s unanimous: Yes. 25-0.
7:14: Paolillo moves item 1B: revenues.
Jackson-Brooks reads some policy amendments made at the last Finance Committee meeting, including one requiring the Board of Ed to study high school needs and capacity.
She goes on: The tax levy and appropriating ordinance covers revenue including taxes, fees, and money from the state. The mill rate will go down to 38.88. The state did not pass the proposed phase-in on property taxes. The grand list has increased by $304 million.
Roll call vote. And… It’s unanimous: Yes. 25-0.
7:19: Paolillo moves item 1C: Bonding.
Jackson-Brooks: This is the annual capital budget.
Roll call vote. And… What’s it going to be? ... It’s unanimous! Yes. 25-0. The capital budget passes.
7:21: Paolillo moves Item 1D.
Jackson-Brooks: This is the new school construction budget. The Finance Committee removed the proposed new construction of a Hyde High School.
Alderwoman Claudette Robinson Thorpe: Bowen field is in dire need of new bleachers, lighting, and a scoreboard. I decided against trying to amend the budget tonight, to avoid dividing the board. But I’m going to look for state funding for this and I encourage my colleagues to help me.
Alderman Justin Elicker: I always thinks it’s important to explain things. Normally I would propose an amendment but I know it would lose. I stand by the amendments I made earlier. We need to get our head around the debt we owe. We will pay $65 million this year in debt service. I hope people will be more willing to make tough decisions next year. We need to stop taking on additional debt.
Alderman Jessica Holmes: I wanted to say something about the study requested to look at how we’re spending money on schools. I agree that our current obligations for debt service are incredibly high. We also need to serve our kids. ... I’m looking forward to seeing the study that will come out.
Roll call vote. A unanimous vote! The board is on a roll. Item 1D passes 25-0.
7:28: Paolollo moves Item 1E, another bonding item.
Jackson-Brooks: This is to pay for the large settlements the city has incurred, specifically the result of the Ricci case.
Roll call vote. ... And ... it’s ... wait for it ... unanimous! The item passes 25-0.
7:30: Paolillo moves Item F through I—Golf course, skating rink, East Rock park, Lighthouse park. All pass in a unanimous voice vote. Paolillo moves on to the special service districts….
Jackson-Brooks: The Finance Committee heard from the districts. I urge you to approve.
All pass unanimously in a voice vote.
Paolillo moves Item 6, regarding parking fees at Lighhouse Park.
Jackson-Brooks speaks about them. There will be no fees for city residents.
Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison says: I want to thank everyone for hearing this. This is really important to city residents. The Lighthouse Park is a jewel. Fees are burdensome. I was trying to lower costs or eliminate them. We were able to make it a zero cost.
Alderwoman Jackie James: I’d like to talk about residential parking passes. We want people to be able to have people visit them. I’m glad we cleared up the parking passes.
Roll call vote: A unanimous yes. 25-0.
7:39: Paolillo: I move item #7. Leave to withdraw on the five-year phase in plan for owner occupied residential property.
Jackson-Brooks: This item was not approved by the state legislature.
A unanimous voice vote gives it leave to withdraw.
7:40: Perez leads a brief round of applause. Meeting adjourned.
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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 29, 2012 8:46pm
“Crime does not pay … as well as politics. ”—Alfred E. Newman
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 29, 2012 10:07pm
Hill Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks said she didn’t even notice how empty the chamber was. She said that if people are unhappy with the budget, they have to show up and make their voices heard.
I thought Politicians when elected are the voices of the people.
posted by: SaveOurCity on May 29, 2012 10:15pm
The lack of attendance is NOT due to everyone being happy with the budget. On the contrary - the fact that spending and borrowing are going up while 70% of home owners are seeing a tax decrease means that the remaining homeowners and businesses are getting HAMMERED but record breaking increases.
It is sad that even with all of the BOA turnover and all of the public hearings, there were only 2 aldermen with the spine to stand up and oppose the irresponsible spending and borrowing.
Driving through the effected neighborhoods, the large number of new ‘For Sale” signs provide more direct feedback than any commentary (or lack thereof) at City Hall.
posted by: Noteworthy on May 29, 2012 11:40pm
The comments relative to public participation contained in this article reflect how out of touch those who purport to run this city are with those they govern. As for why the full BOA had so little to say about the budget? It’s because it is doubtful they’ve read it and if they have, that they understand it and have any historical understanding of what downward trajectory they continue to set for our families.
If they did, they would have a lot more to say about it.
posted by: robn on May 30, 2012 7:00am
Of course nobody showed up because it was clear from previous Finance Committee hearings, when noted experts testified that the city is headed for bankruptcy, that the BOA Union supermajority doesn’t really care ( even though 25% of its citizens are getting the largest tax increase on the country and even though the promises they SAY they are protecting for their collective bargaining units won’t be worth the paper their written on in 5 years when the city files for bankruptcy).
posted by: robn on May 30, 2012 8:35am
This is a dog whistle for anyone who doubted the union supermajority’s intentions following their takeover of the BOA. They did t simply to protect their own. When 25% of the BOA’s constituents get hung out to dry with the largest tax increase in the country, its shows that the BOA is not acting responsibly. The unions have a supermajority and instead of making responsible meaningful cuts, the budget is essentially flatlined. STATUS QUO
posted by: anonymous on May 30, 2012 8:50am
It is astonishing that the Mayor and CCNE spin the supposed lack of public engagement as a good thing, when in reality, there is no clearer symbol of severe urban distress. Budget meetings in Gary, Benton Harbor, and Detroit are regularly so quiet that you can hear a pin drop - or, in some cases, don’t even exist anymore due to bankruptcy.
posted by: westville man on May 30, 2012 9:01am
So Robn, you are ok with spending over $27k on a “political squabble” as it eases your mind on certain things but you are upset with a property tax increase and believe we are heading for bankruptcy? Please…..
posted by: PhillyRock on May 30, 2012 9:06am
Goodbye Economic Base, Bankruptcy here we come! There are a lot of houses for sale in the outlying communities…
posted by: SaveOurCity on May 30, 2012 9:36am
Westville Man: I hope that I’m missing your sarcasm….but at first glance it appears that you are comparing a $27,000 spend over 5 months with items like $70,000,000 for schools that we don’t have students for and $1,000,000 to study a football field, and millions for senior positions at the Board of Ed for schools that are failing our children.
posted by: robn on May 30, 2012 9:38am
Even though you’ve made it clear that your a partisan supporter of Principal Carolina its a fair question so I’ll give you an answer.
I would like our BOA to think about the future (and the potential for bankruptcy) and make responsible decisions about where to cut. The cuts would sometimes be painful but would always be made to non-essentials. I see it as essential that we know our high school grading system (either human or computer) isn’t corrupt. Not investigating this matter would be the equivalent of driving your leather seat convertible into a rainstorm but refusing to put the top up because you want to save electricity.
posted by: trying to help on May 30, 2012 9:47am
This is a very sad statement about Budget and Finance in New Haven. We knew 6 years ago that city was going in a very bad direction. The then Budget and Finance Director literally was the person who managed to keep things barely above water, but after his resignation it was clear there was no fiscal leadership left in New Haven.
The revaluation has many flaws and in court the Grand List may take significant hits. With so many neighborhoods in distress, only a few neighborhoods will be left holding the burden of escalating tax burdens. New Haven needs to begin working now in Hartford to get legislation allowing for taxation of commercial and residential at different rates. It is also time to admit that the school building initiative was not successful, especially when we see the poor quality of workmanship and over ambitious designs. Campaign funding fueled by favored contractors. This is really sad. New Haven is financially down the tubes which is the saddest part because we knew this was where we were going without fundamental change, however there was no leadership at all. We now need to face receivership on the horizon.
posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 30, 2012 9:59am
Who were the five alders who did not vote for the budget? Were any of them abstentions, or was it just five board members being absent?
Also, did the mill rate actually go down to 38.9 from last year’s 43.9? If so, wOOt !!!!!
posted by: ramonesfan on May 30, 2012 11:42am
Do you mean to say that “Saturday Night Live” is still on the air? Does anybody else know about this?
posted by: Pedro Soto on May 30, 2012 12:06pm
A half a billion dollar budget with minutes of discussion, but a resounding NO to spending $100,000 to get a streetcar started. If there was any more proof that this BOA is going to be agenda-driven and not policy-driven, there it is.
I was never a fan of the Yale Unions when I worked at Yale, and I’m even less of a fan now that they have a serious grip on power in the city.
posted by: Webblog1 on May 30, 2012 12:11pm
There are a number of items that needs to be re-stated to reflect the transformation of this budget into an action plan.
First is the fact that this budget is not a $486.4 million budget, but, rather a 784,542,000M, and carries with it a debt of $720,858,424M.
1.Hill Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks said - The Finance Committee recommends changes. [She outlines the changes laid out in the last meeting of the Finance Committee—elimination of some positions] ... Reducing the budget $389,000.
Incorrect: The mayor recommended through his budget amendment, reductions of 369K, mostly ghost positions, not verified in the budget. The board of finance recommended a 20K reduction in park fees bringing the total to 389K. Jackson-Brooks congratulates herself on for this minute contribution..?
2.Jackson-Brooks: This is the new school construction budget. The Finance Committee removed the proposed new construction of a Hyde High School.
Incorrect: The Mayor proposed through his budget amendment the removal of the Hyde-Hillhouse school construction, pre-empting Elicker’s amendment, while also eliminating the rebuild of Hillhouse& Bowen field athletic field, along with the Wilbur Cross track refurshments.
3.Jackson-Brooks reads some policy amendments made at the last Finance Committee meeting, including one requiring the Board of Ed to study high school needs and capacity. Incorrect: Again, part of the Mayors budget amendment preapproved by the Mayor and Jorge Perez, before the finance committee even knew what was going on. No congrats for that performance either.
Finally, Roll call vote: A unanimous yes. 25-0. With five absentees.
The Mayor had no contributory vote in this historic accomplishment.
In a city where only 14% vote for Mayor, how can the BoA spin the lack of participation and engagement as a positive?
What a bizarre fantasy world we are living in where this is considered normal or acceptable.
Democracy is many things—it is absolutely loud, and it is absolutely messy. A quick meeting with no disagreements doesn’t mean the system worked—it means disagreeing voices were not admitted from the get-go.
This is what happens when one group sweeps an election. As I’ve said, the intentions of the Union and the Mayor are wonderful—but the methods are not.
The campaign messages and the nature of the dialogue is calculated—by both groups—to eliminate opposition and let legislators get their way.
Just the statement that “they need to show up” shows this—you have to actively engage and motivate people for every aspect of democracy, not just voting, but all civic participation has to be nurtured and encouraged.
It is depressing to see how far we could have gone, only to end up back at square one. Instead of having a more involved and more empowered citizenry, we just have a new group in power.
posted by: westville man on May 30, 2012 12:45pm
Actually, Robn, it was your post that said EVEN IF it was a political squabble, it was money well spent. I think the partisanship is clear- you dont mind spending money on a “squabble” as long as it is against someone you dislike.
posted by: westville man on May 30, 2012 12:58pm
SaveOurCity- read beyond the first glance. I find it interesting that folks can rail against a runaway budget and increase property taxes and yet admit, in writing, that if we just spent 27k (so far) on a “political squabble” (their words)- that’s fine. How does one blow up a budget? $1 at a time.
posted by: S Brown on May 30, 2012 1:26pm
Anderson Scooper wrote: “Also, did the mill rate actually go down to 38.9 from last year’s 43.9? If so, wOOt !!!!!”
Before you get too excited, take a look at your property valuation. Unless your property values have gone down significantly from last year to this year, you’re going to see a tax increase. That’s because the earlier phase-in, which was frozen 40% of the way, is now gone and you’ll be getting taxed based on the full value of your property.
For example, my property value has remained essentially unchanged from the 2006 reval to the 2011 one, but because the phase-in is being lifted, my tax bill will increase by about 33%.
posted by: robn on May 30, 2012 1:35pm
Don’t misquote me. If you reread my post maybe you’ll realize that I’m happy to spend the money to clear up the issue; whether the principal or the mayor comes out on top. My initial skepticism of the principal was his desire to quash any investigation in the first place. Sounded like too much protest.
posted by: anonymous on May 30, 2012 1:37pm
I agree, Pedro. The fact that our Board of Aldermen couldn’t approve the $30,000 in matching city funds, and therefore threw out State and Federal funding for the transit design study, is a national embarrassment to organized labor and to cities throughout the country.
In order to save a few hundred dollars in debt service, the Board therefore threw out any future opportunity for this City to create: 1. 1,000+ union jobs 2. $100,000,000+, if not more, in direct federal and state funding 3. $1,000,000,000+, if not more, in new urban development that would result from having a functional transit system The other cost is this: We will see our bus system continue to rapidly decline.
Transportation is the most important determinant of a city’s economy, particularly families’ access to jobs. Currently, transportation is by a wide margin the single largest barrier to jobs access in Connecticut, according to all of our workforce boards.
As Mayor Daley would say, this story isn’t “sexy,” but it is a much bigger story than the budget vote or the elimination of bonding for a couple of schools. The impact of Perez’s decision will be felt in New Haven for generations.
posted by: Curious on May 30, 2012 2:10pm
I see Alderman Marchand was not absent, but unlike the Downtown Crossing proposal, did he actually read the budget?
How many of the alders were reading it and making contributions and discussing it, versus just voting how they were told to vote?
posted by: SaveOurCity on May 30, 2012 10:31pm
wvm - jump over to the new story on city parking. We just paid $50,000 for a new logo design and new uniforms for the parking authority. Just wait till we add in the cost for new signs with the new logo. (curious about your thoughts on this cost to the city)
The more you watch, the more that you will see that Johnny D has an addiction to spending.
posted by: S Brown on May 31, 2012 8:30am
The Parking Authority is financially self sustaining. It is not supported by tax revenues. In fact, I believe that in years past it has actually contributed money to the city, not the other way around.
If you think parking rates are too high, that’s another story (I don’t). But, complaining about that $50,000 has nothing to do with the city budget. It’s paid for by parking fees.
posted by: westville man on May 31, 2012 8:51am
I think you misunderstood my posts- I am against this kind of spending and haven’t supported Destefano in over 12 years. I’ve actively campaigned against him. My observation was about the inconsistent positions some people take regarding spending vs the over-blown budget. We can’t have it both ways.