Mayor Plays Hardball Back

Thomas Breen photoMayor Toni Harp vowed to fight the Board of Alders — “perhaps” even taking it to court — if it proceeds with plans to strip $483,172 from city departments to reduce the new 11 percent tax increase.

Harp revealed her administration’s stance on the matter on the latest edition of WNHH FM’s “Mayor Monday program.” She said she plans to fight any effort by the Board of Alders to put the new proposed ordinance amendment into effect.

“We don’t think they can” remove money from a department once a budget is passed, Harp said. “We think it’s against the charter of the city. So we’re having some people look at it.

“The Board of Alders gets a time they can pass the budget,” she continued. “Any changes to the budget have to be approved by the mayor. That’s our reading. We’ll see.”

Will her administration go to court to prevent the alders from moving money?

“Perhaps,” Harp said.

She noted that the alders haven’t yet taken action to try to move the money.

During last Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, the committee alders voted unanimously to recommend approval of an ordinance amendment that would reduce 16 city department budgets by a total of $483,172. The proposed amendment would then reallocate that money towards a newly created line in the budget dedicated to mill rate reduction.

If the measure passes, the average New Haven homeowner would save approximately $10 on taxes.

The alders explicitly stated during the committee meeting that the $483,172 covered by the proposed ordinance amendment corresponds dollar for dollar to raises over two years that the mayor issued to 36 non-unionized city department heads and other positions that hadn’t seen raises for up to seven years.

The alders roundly criticized the mayor for issuing raises at a time when city taxpayers are taking on a 11 percent tax increase to help cover a $30 million structural deficit, and for not being transparent about her intention of giving out raises after the alders passed the budget at the end of May.

The proposed ordinance amendment will require two hearings and a vote by the full Board of Alders before it can take effect.

“Our board respectfully disagrees with the Mayor’s assessment,” Board of Alders President and West River Alders Tyisha Walker-Myers wrote in a statement responding to the mayor’s promise to oppose the proposed ordinance amendment. Walker-Myers was one of the chief defenders of the new legislation at last week’s Finance Committee meeting.

“We intend to continue to take actions to address the concerns of our residents and prioritize reducing the mill rate, how and where we can,” she continued. “We welcome the Mayor to be a partner in this effort and encourage her to be conscientious about using funds that could be used to lower the burden on our constituents for purposes that do not.”

Finance Committee Vice Chair and Westville Alder Adam Marchand responded with similar caution to the mayor’s statement.

“I don’t know for sure which legal authorities or which section of the City Charter she had in mind when she made her statement about pushing back,” he wrote in an email to the Independent. “I think she and her team will have more research to do if they want to take some sort of action. To my knowledge, they haven’t done anything definite yet. It’s much too early to speculate on something as unclear as this.”

Indeed, the mayor did not specify which section of the city charter she and her lawyers are looking to for justification of their rebuttal to the alders’ proposed ordinance amendment. City spokesperson Laurence Grotheer did not not point to a specific section when asked for the mayor’s rationale, saying instead that she is working with corporation counsel to research the issue.

One relevant passage may be Article VIII, Section 3, which covers “Transfers During Fiscal Year.”

“The Board of Alders may establish by Ordinance from time to time an amount of appropriation under the approved budget which the Controller with the approval of the Mayor shall be authorized to transfer between line items within any department or from one department to another,” the section reads. “No such transfer in excess of such authorized amount shall be implemented unless it shall be proposed by the Mayor and approved by the Board of Alders, provided that an increase in the total appropriation shall be approved only by vote of two-thirds of the entire Board of Alders.”

Although this section is clear that the mayor must initiate any budget transfers that exceed the dollar amount authorized by the approved city budget, it is also clear that the Board of Alders may pass ordinances that transfer money between budget line items, so long as the total amount of money moved around amounts to “under the approved budget.”

At the end of May, the alders approved an amended version of the mayor’s $547.1 million general fund budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. That budget included an 11 percent tax increase.

The $483,172 covered by the alders’ proposed ordinance amendment does not increase the total dollar appropriations in the budget. Instead, it takes money from 20 different specific line items from 16 different departments, and moves that money instead towards a proposed new line item for mill rate reduction.

City spokesperson Laurence Grotheer said the mayor and corporation counsel are evaluating whether the Board of Alders is authorized to go forward with the amendment as recommended. In the meantime, he said, the mayor has asked her chief of staff, Tomas Reyes, to require different department heads to put together contingency plans in case the amendment does go forward.

“The work is being done on a hypothetical basis,” Grotheer said. “Because there is no action by the Board of Alders.” Yet. That action won’t take place until September at the earliest, which is when the full board will be able to hold a second hearing and vote on the proposed legislation.

Click on the Facebook Live video to watch the full episode of “Mayor Monday.”

This episode of “Mayor Monday” was made possible with the support of Gateway Community College and Berchem Moses P.C.

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posted by: robn on July 18, 2018  1:44pm

It would be nice if most NHI polls included the choice
“None of the above because its political theater.”

posted by: alphabravocharlie on July 18, 2018  1:55pm

Let’s all grow up and negotiate a solution to this instead of wasting the City’s money in court. The lawyers are the only ones who will benefit.

posted by: Sean O'Brien on July 18, 2018  2:31pm

This is exactly the adversarial attitude and display of hubris that we don’t need in a time of crisis.

posted by: Inzidraid on July 18, 2018  3:04pm

This is a testament to the growing budget crisis and what is yet to come. We keep hearing about police and the raise they require - I agree it is necessary. Some opposed to it citing some police make a significant amount of money, however, one must be a product of the “Golden Boys” club to see those gains.

Example: The head of Detectives submits overtime for working out. This has been authorized by an AC.

The head of patrol submits overtime slips authorized by an AC meanwhile he is unaccounted for during his normal working shift. 

The head of Detail does the very same thing. Meanwhile you have officers on the frontlines that are being talked with doing the work of 5 officers while looking at other departments to alleviate the stress of low wages.

If the money the Alders will attempt to be removed be reallocated to an area of the city that benefits the citizens, perhaps?

posted by: boxerct on July 18, 2018  4:11pm

Based on her general demeanor and attitude regarding this and the alders in general, I’m guessing that she’s decided not to run for reelection.

posted by: 1644 on July 18, 2018  4:32pm

Bluedog:  At this point, I think anyone could do a better job.  Maybe even Paca, although I think he would be over his head just as Harp is.

posted by: Sean O'Brien on July 18, 2018  4:38pm

@boxerct I’ve heard rumors to that effect from other politicians in her party.  Still rumors, so take that with a very large grain of salt.  But it would better explain the raises in the first place (cash out, give your friends and supporters a boost, and bounce).

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on July 18, 2018  5:07pm

Gwen Mills for Mayor in 2019!

posted by: robn on July 19, 2018  5:25am

What’s with the Gwen Mills boosterism? She orchestrated the union takeover of the BOA 6 years ago that’s a good part of the reason why were in this mess. We need a new mayor and a new BOA, scrubbed of special interests.

posted by: anonymous on July 19, 2018  8:35am

The budget problem isn’t a spending problem, it’s a revenue problem. New Haven already spends so much less per capita than the wasteful, spread-out, and segregated 90%-white towns around it.

This will continue to be an issue until that is fixed. For now, aside from state policy changes, the Mayor and Alders’ top policy priority should be expanding Tweed-New Haven so that we can bring more taxable property and jobs to downtown New Haven.  Stop fighting about $500,000, which is an insignificant drop in the bucket, and get this done.

Without at least another flight or two at Tweed, very few businesses here can bring any conferences, events, and meetings to town, to say nothing of corporate offices.  Cities like Boston/Cambridge, NYC, Portland, Austin, Atlanta, and Washington DC all have airport service within an easy 10-20 minute drive of their downtown areas.  Having Bradley an hour away (when there’s no traffic) just doesn’t cut it.  Even Yale, a huge private contributor to city tax rolls in terms of their building permits, is reluctant to expand here, and is now focusing its money into other areas. Silicon Valley wants to move engineers here but won’t if there’s no airport within 10-20 minutes like all those other cities have.

The runway area is already there, the road has already been moved, and it just needs to be approved.  With a couple trucks worth of asphalt to pave that area, and essentially zero impact on the environment, all of this could easily change.  A few commercial flights wouldn’t even be noticeable, given the existing private air traffic there.  New Haven would see a construction/tax boomlet for the next 10-20 years, at least.

posted by: Noteworthy on July 19, 2018  8:53am

What the alders should do - is pass this reduction - and if Harp pushes back more, double it. Then triple it. Mayor Harp has to respect the budget and the budget process. So far, she’s shown disdain for them both.

posted by: 1644 on July 19, 2018  10:48am

anon:  New Haven has an operating budget of $547 million, with a built in deficit of $30 million.  With a population of 130K, that’s $4200 per resident.  Branford has a budget of $112 million, with a population of 28K (actually more now, but that’s the last census), or $4k per person.  Moreover,  Branford routinely runs a surplus of $4 million or so due to budgeted for all positions, vacant or not,  generous contingency funding, etc., fully funds its pensions at a 6% discount rate, and often uses operating funds to pay for capital items, New Haven borrows for everything remotely capital,  underfunds its pensions even at an unrealistic discount rate, and runs a deficit.  Milford, with a budget of $210 million and population of $53K is a little under Branford in per person spending.  Overall, New Haven is reported as 42 of 169 in spending per person, so not the highest, but certainly above average.

posted by: Ryn111 on July 21, 2018  8:23am

Too little too late from our glorious union backed alders…. YOU ALREADY APPROVED THIS BUDGET.

Their focus on pinning Yale for their own benefit leaves ordinary citizens holding the buck for their basic lack of oversight of our city.