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