Council Approves Proposal That Halts Overtime, Hiring Without Special Approval
By JENNA CARLESSO
March 26, 2013
HARTFORD —— The city council Monday approved a proposal calling for a freeze on all new hiring and overtime spending that is not already budgeted, unless approved by the council.
The measure will now go to Mayor Pedro Segarra, who will have the opportunity to veto or approve it. The council would need seven votes to override a veto.
Asked if the mayor would veto the proposal, Segarra's spokeswoman, Maribel La Luz, said: "Right now the mayor's office is analyzing all options and potential impacts." Segarra has seven days after the council approves the ordinance to veto it.
Under the proposal, all requests for overtime that exceed departments' budgets must be approved by the council before the money is spent. Several departments, including public safety, rely on overtime for certain operations.
The plan also calls for the council to approve any new hiring, including police and fire recruits. Both departments have minimum staffing requirements.
Police Chief James C. Rovella, who attended Monday's council meeting, declined to comment.
Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, a Democrat who raised the proposal, said he did so after taking part in several discussions about the city's fiscal issues. He said he was troubled by projections that show a $9.4 million shortfall this year and a $70 million deficit next year.
Shortly before the council voted 7-2 in favor of the ordinance, several members expressed a need for what they called greater fiscal accountability.
"I've been here since 2001. I've seen a lot of budgets come and go, and I've seen a lot of police chiefs say they're going to get overtime [costs] under control," Kennedy said.
He noted that some of the biggest costs in the upcoming 2013-14 budget are pension and benefits. Overtime increases salaries, which in turn boosts pensions, Kennedy said.
"That's not to say overtime isn't needed — we just need to get better control over the process," he added.
Councilwoman Cynthia Jennings, a member of the Working Families Party, said the panel is responsible for ensuring money is available before it's spent.
With large deficits projected in the coming years, she said, "City employees are facing layoffs, cut-backs and furlough days if we don't do our jobs. We're not trying to be vindictive to police … we're trying to make sure our employees are safe and secure in their jobs."
Democratic Councilmen Alexander Aponte, the panel's majority leader, and Raul DeJesus Jr. voted against the proposal.
DeJesus said he would have voted in favor of the plan if it had excluded public safety departments.
"This is one of the most dangerous cities in the country; it's just a fact," DeJesus said. "It's not a 40-hour-a-week job."
Aponte said he opposed the measure because it "encroached upon territory that belongs to the administration." He said the council shouldn't have the power to decide how many police officers or city hall employees to hire.
"We should trust the [police] chief and the mayor to do what they have to do within budget constraints," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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