When Hamden Mayor Curt Leng unveils his proposed new budget Monday, look for more money to beef up community policing. As for a tax increase? He’s hoping to avoid proposing one, but can’t say yet for sure.
Leng offered that preview during an appearance Wednesday on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.
Leng fielded questions from listeners, discussed efforts to purchase the town’s streetlights from United Illuminating, and spoke of some of his goals for the budget.
He has scheduled a public event Monday to unveil the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He said the total for the proposed budget will be slightly higher than the current year’s $231.5 million operating budget. The proposal will go to the Legislative Council for review.
Hamden’s 47.96 mill rate is already too high, he said. He attributed that in part to the state’s reliance on property taxes, and Hamden’s historic underfunding of pensions.
“I don’t know yet,” Leng said when asked if he’ll be proposing a mill rate increase. “We’re working really hard to shave those last little bits. It’s extraordinarily difficult in the environment we’re in to not raise taxes and bring more money in.”
The governor’s proposed budget pretty much keeps state aid at last year’s level, which if passed will help, Leng said. The town must pass its budget by May 15, usually before the passage of a final state budget, so towns end up having to guess how much they’ll receive in aid from Hartford. State aid currently accounts for 26.5 percent of Hamden’s total annual revenues.
A budget reflects a town’s values, the third-term mayor said, citing public safety, public works, and education as top priorities. Leng has been building up a community policing program in town. Toward that end the new proposed budget will include money for new police bike patrols and walking beats as well as a youth after-school program. It will also include $60,000 in full-year funding for a street outreach worker position the town began funding in the middle of the current year. (Click here to read more about that.)
Gun-related and other crimes have dropped dramatically over the past decade, Leng said. But the town has decided to publicize all incidents more than it used to in order to promote crime prevention. “The flip side is you hear about ‘crime in Hamden’ more than you might in communities that don’t have that philosophy,” he said. People often come up to ask him, “Why is crime high in Hamden?”
Also on “Dateline Hamden,” Leng:
• Backed a bill before the state legislature that would allow towns like Hamden to bill large universities $500 per student for police and fire service. Even if the number were $300, Hamden would bring n $2.5 million from Quinnipiac University, Leng said. That combined with Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program reimbursements would make up about half of the revenues the town loses from state-declared tax-exempt properties. QU currently makes a $400,000 annual voluntary payment to the town.
• Expressed hope that Hamden and UI can come to a compromise over the future of the the town’s streetlights. Hamden wants to buy them and to install less expensive, more environmentally friendly lights along with cameras and other extras. UI refuses to sell. The state’s other electric utility, Eversource, must by law agree to sell streetlights to local communities; Hamden is backing a proposed new law requiring UI to do the same for its 17 member communities. (Read a full story on this subject here.)
• Reported that several “bites of interest” have come from prospective buyers, in one case a Vietnamese restaurant, in the former Duchess/Bruegger’s Bagels spot on Dixwell Avenue. Listener Al Ramelli had raised the issue in a post to Facebook: “Would love to have Duchess back where it used to be. It’s been a vacant a while.” After Leng responded, listener Patrick Johnson posted: “I think a place like B Natural or other healthy food / juice bar would be great in the Bruegger’s lot. Or Starbucks should move there and something new can go where Starbucks is.”
• Asked listeners to suggest a name for his show on WNHH FM, which is now scheduled to air monthly.
Click on the video to watch the full episode of WNHH FM’s “Dateline Hamden” with Mayor Curt Leng: