Hear This!

By , April 29, 2009 8:07 am

budget
My intentions to write a thorough report on last night’s budget hearing got blown to hell by my inability to intently listen to four hours’ worth of whining, threatening, and begging. Here are a few of the highlights from the event and isweartogod I can’t make this stuff up:

-the largest group to speak were those on behalf of Youth Services, many of whom were minors. The cuteness of elementary school students reading messages clearly penned or heavily coached by adults lost its charm before it even got started. Cityline tweeted:

Kids are apparently here as an early strike against a suggestion on the council to merge a couple of youth offices.

I would have liked more of the variety of comments unleashed by the young lasses who testified that Youth Services is what stopped them from “smokin’ and drinkin’ and fightin’ in the streets.”

As with every other public hearing, the “rules” were not enforced, which allowed many people representing a single organization to speak, rather than have one representative. Manipulating children and wasting time wouldn’t win me over; guess it’s good that I’m not a politician.

-a man stood up at random and bellowed about how no taxpayers had spoke out yet, about half a dozen speakers into the evening. Nobody gave him the memo, apparently, that explained that “public meeting” does not mean “taxpayer meeting.

-the florist who is always complaining about the tax rate said:

“I personally know you, and I personally know your spouses. And I have serviced you. For your flower needs.”

There was in fact a long pause between “serviced you” and “for your flower needs.” Read it out loud, slowly, perhaps after ennui has set in.

-four certain threats were made over the night. These followed the “Fund this program or else” formula.

-a woman who lives in ArtSpace complained that there were no sit-down restaurants in her neighborhood. I wanted to tell her that if she crossed the street and walked for thirty seconds, she’d land at Hot Tomatoes and an abundance of restaurants downtown.

-one woman said she wouldn’t pay her taxes and followed this with: “Whatchy’all gonna do? Lock me up?”

-one of the police officers standing by the doors put his hand down his pants. I wish I made that up. Personally, not a great argument for funding public safety. Likewise, if we’re wondering about how the city is wasting money (and they waste a lot of it), we might look at why there were four cops serving as bouncers at the meeting. I know the public can get rowdy, but one would have sufficed– preferably one who had better public etiquette.

-a woman who had been pushing for the horsepark told a beautiful story about bribing kids with a chocolate bar to clean the Ebony Horsewomen grounds. A fellow blogger commented via twitter:

I hope each kid got a candy bar, and that one wasn’t split into eight pieces!

-a man asked Mayor Perez (on behalf of a girl) to stop texting during people’s comments

For other details, check out Cityline.

8 Responses to “Hear This!”

  1. lobonick says:

    An excellent take on last night’s meeting. The increase in the mill rate was not really discussed. Hartford’s tax situation is quickly becoming one of the worst in the State of Connecticut.

    The Youth Services did a nice job in protecting their funding. There can be no question that youth in Hartford are at risk. All funding in this area should be considered critical. Still the large amount of supporters simply repeated the message over and over.

    Another issue that was not addressed was the City’s love for legal fees. Apparently this portion of the budget has exploded over recent years. Certainly if all the lawyers in the Mayor’s office and the City Council could call a truce for a bit, then this portion of the budget could be limited. Certainly an audit of this expense is worthwhile.

    Stil the main issue at hand was the tax increase which will not be felt until later in the financial year. Whether homeowners and businesses faced with a downturn in the economy will be excited to pay these taxes at that time will remain to be seen. Hartford needs to be competitive and pro-active on the tax issue in order to compete for business, jobs and talent.

  2. Julie Beman says:

    I think the legal fees were addressed by one speaker, and the tax increases (relative to business creation and retention) were addressed by the couple of Repubs in attendance as well as some of the business owners.

    Several homeowners mentioned the tax increases as well, but emotionally, not with any coherent argument against them. (Although one homeowner expressed a willingness to pay *more* taxes if certain services could be maintained or increased.)

    The problem: tax issues are not as exciting as threat-downs and not as cute as (one or two, not 7 million next year, please) school children.

    I’m afraid that in the end it doesn’t matter. The budget hearing is just a pro forma exercise. I don’t think what people had to say will influence the mayor or council one bit.

    I would like to know more about this “no budget increase” claim in light of the comment that one speaker made about spending last year not being based on a budget, but rather based on the budget plus additional state aid received through the year. If it’s the case that Perez is claiming “no increase” based on an artificial number, I’m pretty disgusted.

    I have spin fatigue.

  3. Julie Beman says:

    I need to *try* to clarify my “no budget increase” paragraph, if possible. (This is all feeling kind-of convoluted.)

    The message from city hall seemed to be that the 2009-2010 budget of $500+ million is not an increase over last year’s budget. Yet a speaker suggested that the proposed budget is not related to last year’s budget, but is related to actual *spending*. (Additional spending was made possible by money received from the state.)

    That is, the 2008-2009 budget was actually less than the budget proposed last night, so there is, in fact, an increase. That increase may rely on the receipt of additional state money, which is in no way guaranteed.

    I will try to find out if this is the case.

    I will not try to find out using the 311 info line.

  4. Julie Beman says:

    The 2008-2009 budget was for $547,589,282.

    The 2009-2010 budget is for $547,589,282.

    So, they are equal down to the last $2 and I have shown myself to be susceptible to paranoia and conspiracy theories.

    Wasn’t easy to find the information, by the way.

  5. Julie – You can find out by doing a little research on HartfordInfo.org (www.hartfordinfo.org). Feel free to give me a call at Hartford Public Library (695-6365) if you have trouble finding the answer.

  6. Mat says:

    I heard that the sign up list was supposed to become available at 5:00 but was released at 4:00, obviously by design, so that the children could be paraded out first. Another interesting theory I’ve heard — and find quite possible — is that Perez’s will to spend lavishly is driven by his need for character witnesses at his sentencing hearing (should he be convicted).

    I am deeply concerned about the long-term consequences of our mill rate but, beyond that macro policy consideration, let’s get into the budget, line-by-line. Start with $1.5 million for the “Mayor’s Community Initiatives” to “provide resources to help families in foreclosure keep their homes.” First, a 13% increase in the tax rate is likely to increase foreclosures. Second, how does this program actually work? I understand federal-level efforts legislatively to force lenders to do work-outs, cram-downs, etc., but what the heck can the city do to fend off a foreclosure? The city needs to know its role: police, fire, trash, education, parks, libraries — not throwing good money after bad.

  7. Julie Beman says:

    Mat:

    I am right with you on the foreclosure issue. As soon as I saw the foreclosure item I circled it and asked my budget hearing companions why in the world the city should have a role in preventing foreclosures.

    Obviously the city has an interest in fewer foreclosures, but as you point out, there are efforts in place already to deal with this issue.

    It makes no sense for the city to take any responsibility for preventing foreclosures.

    And imagine: if the library received appropriate levels of funding, it could offer programs on financial management in addition to the wonderful programs it already offers. Perhaps that kind of education would prevent people from buying homes when they’re not ready. (Not to say at all that many people weren’t the victims of unscrupulous lenders. They were. I was in mortgage compliance while crazy lending was going on and heard the alarm being raised even then.)

  8. lobonick says:

    foreclosure relief is critical. continued foreclosures will create more blight. blight will take money and time to remove. the real question on foreclosure relief is what is the tangible result from the investment. will the foreclosure relief money help the debtor increase their income as to afford their own house ? hartford, as urban center, needs to take a strong step like the money on “foreclosure relief” to battle blight. perhaps some of the money could be spent on simply knocking down abandoned properties.

    also the release of the sign-up sheet early is weak. individuals with jobs and responsbilities often can’t work their schedule around the early sign up sheet.

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