John Tornatore, owner of Gordon Bonetti Florist on Franklin Avenue, had a special delivery to make at Tuesday night’s public hearing at Bulkeley High School on Mayor Eddie Perez’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. But Tornatore didn’t hand out roses or chocolates. Instead, he delivered a stinging criticism of Perez’s financial management of the city.
“You, Mr. Mayor, appointed me to the Property Tax Reform Task Force two years ago. We had many meetings, we did a lot of work...we made 20 recommendations to you and you have not acted on a single one...then you dissolved us because you didn’t like what we were telling you,” said Tornatore.
There was much said at Tuesday night’s hearing that Perez probably didn’t want to hear.
Congress Street resident Ellen Nurse said, “This city can no longer manage with this fiscal mis-management...you need to look deep into this budget and make some cuts because this city is going downhill.”
Perez presented his proposed budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009-2010 to City Council last Monday, April 20. While the mayor’s proposed budget remained fixed at the same overall amount, $547,589,282, as last year, it does call for a tax increase of 8.89 mils. Several city council members has publicly stated that they feel the tax hike is too steep for city taxpayers – particularly its small businesses. Council has until May 20 to present its recommendations on the budget to the mayor.
All council members except Veronica Airey-Wilson attended Tuesday night’s budget hearing, which ran over four hours.
Many of those who spoke at the hearing requested that no cuts be made in the Office of Youth Services. Jose Burgos, a student at Quirk Middle School, said he and other city youngster benefit greatly from city-funded programs at Mi Casa Family Center on Park Street. “If you cut the funding there’ll be more trouble in the streets and that means more police you’ll have to pay...Please help our youth so we can become somebody tomorrow.” Other spoke highly of the collaboration between the Office of Youth Services, the Peace Builders (an anti-gang violence group) and St. Francis Hospital. This collaboration allows members of the Peace Builders to enter the hospital’s emergency room to calm down tensions following a gang-related shooting. “There is no doubt in my mind that last summer would have been far worse if it had not been for the Peace Builders,” said Dr. Steven Wolf, Chairman and Director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at St. Francis.
The depth of Hartford’s financial crisis this year has been reflected in a new sense of apparent collaboration between City employee unions and taxpayers.
Tornatore said, “We [the Property Tax Reform Task Force] told you [Perez] to listen to the unions...they know where the waste is and want to help.”
Richard Rodriguez, President of the Hartford Police Union, spoke on behalf of the Hartford Public Services Coalition, which includes City of Hartford Professional Employees Association, CSEA SEIU Local 2001, Council 4 AFSCME Local 1716, Hartford Municipal Employees Association, Hartford Police Union and the Hartford School Crossing Guards Association. “Increasing taxes is not a sustainable solution. We want to be part of a true solution,” said Rodriguez.
Former City Councilman John O’Connell, speaking on behalf of Hartford Small Business & Taxpayer Alliance (HSB&TA) said, “In a collaborative effort to work with members of Council, HSB&TA has joined with the Hartford Public Services Coalition, to seek areas were services can be maintained and costs reduced.”
O’Connell said Council’s efforts to find a way out of the city’s financial crisis has been “compounded by the [Perez] administration’s continuing failure to disclose financial information to the Council and public. Recently the Council’s efforts at fiscal remediation, remind me of a ship traversing dangerous shoals and reefs in a dense fog, without benefit of a chart, compass, or radar.”
O’Connell said Council must demand the Third Quarter Report for fiscal 2008-2009, “with complete actual data” from the mayor’s office and use this to help them formulate their budget recommendations. He also called on Council to “challenge, in the appropriate jurisdictional forum, the Corporation Counsel’s recent ruling that Council need not approve Administration withdrawals from the ‘unallocated reserve fund.’ This ruling makes the Budget process a farce, and makes the Charter’s balanced budget provisions moot, since at any time and for any reason the administration can raid the fund balance. This opinion, like most of Attorney Rose’s, is factually bereft, poorly reasoned, and politically motivated.”