NEW BRITAIN - A few days removed from an eleventh hour budget meeting Saturday afternoon, Mayor Erin Stewart spent her Monday analyzing several cuts included in the city’s proposed 2018-19 budget.
“I called all of the department heads that are going to be affect by these cuts into my office this morning to kind of have a conversation about what these cuts would mean to their departments and how they would plan on performing the functions if the cuts were to go through,” Stewart told The Herald on Monday.
In a 9-5 vote on Saturday, the Common Council passed an amended version of Stewart’s $237.7 million budget proposal.
The amendments made by council Democrats total about $1.7 million in cuts to Stewart’s budget. The amended budget reduces the city’s tax rate from 50.50 to 49.977 and provides an additional $429,171 to the school district. Republican Alderman Jamie Giantonio was not present for the vote.
The council’s deadline to pass a budget deal was this past weekend. While the budget was passed, Stewart has until June 19 to veto.
The list of amendments, which wasn’t made available to the media or the council’s Republican caucus until Saturday, includes the elimination of 25 positions, some vacant and some filled.
“Most of the people who are on the proposal to let go are city residents,” Stewart said, adding that she’s received calls of concern from many employees who fear being laid off. “Morale in the building is at a big low today because there are a lot of question marks.”
Stewart said many department heads wonder why they weren’t contacted by council Democrats while changes and cuts were being considered.
“They didn’t feel that they got the opportunity to defend the positions. They feel slighted because they didn’t get the chance to answer any questions because no questions were asked of them,” Stewart said.
The mayor said a few position cuts in particular concern her. Specifically, eliminating the director of the New Britain Senior Center and the director of the city’s Community Services Department aren’t moves she would make. Stewart also questions the elimination of the Commission on Human Rights officer.
“It’s very troubling,” Stewart said.
Stewart said some cuts made by the Democrats don’t actually exist. In particular, the mayor said there is a custodial job included in the budget amendment that her office can’t actually find in this year’s budget book. As the Republican caucus has repeated in recent weeks, Stewart said she’s disappointed she wasn’t told of the changes Democrats proposed until Saturday.
“They didn’t care to have the public discourse. They didn’t care to have the good-faith negotiations, and they still don’t care to this day,” Stewart said. “This is purely political. It’s nonsensical, really.”
Stewart has until Tuesday, June 19 to veto the budget. Since the mayor has line-item veto authority, Stewart can veto certain proposed cuts while maintaining the others. There are a few line-items that Stewart said she will surely veto, though.
“One of the cuts that they’re making is to eliminate the web hosting for the city website and for the Common Council agenda. That’s a direct attack at government transparency – I’m absolutely going to veto that,” Stewart said.
The mayor said she’ll do her due diligence and look at all proposed cuts before making decisions. Further, Stewart said she needs to examine union contracts to confirm if certain cuts can be made without violating contracts.
“I will do my best to take the time that I am allotted to truly look at the cuts that they would like to make,” Stewart said. “I will give it the scrutiny that it deserves … I am going to take their proposal and analyze it from a management perspective and not from a political perspective.”
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.