Hartford Budget in Crisis, Made Worse by Stadium Debacle - NBC Connecticut

Hartford Budget in Crisis, Made Worse by Stadium Debacle

Hartford Mayor Looking for State Help to Deal With Growing Financial Woes

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin says the City of Hartford needs as much help from the state as possible to get in firm financial footing and he met Thursday with Connecticut’s Municipal Finance Advisory Commission about the city’s financial problems. (Published Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016)

Mayor Luke Bronin tried his best to show a panel that provides guidance on state spending for cities and towns that he's trying to get Hartford in better shape the right way.

"We're not scared to make difficult decisions," he pleaded. "We already have."

Bronin detailed how the city faces a $22 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year and an even more daunting $50 million shortfall in fiscal year 2018.

The mayor told the panel, the Municipal Finance Advisory Commission, which provides guidance to the governor's budget office, the Office of Policy and Management, that even though he's proposed and gotten through savings from attrition and layoffs as well as service cuts, he knows more is needed in terms of revenue.

The mayor has also said he's seeking $15 million in union givebacks, but didn't sound optimistic about their likelihood Thursday.

"We do not expect to achieve anywhere close to those savings in time to generate that full $15.5 million in savings," he said.

Bronin urged the panel to look at ways for the state's largest cities with, "real city challenges" to thrive. His first target was the reliance on the property tax. Bronin has told any group that will listen how Hartford, with a population of more than 130,000 residents, and more than 100,000 who solely work in the city, has less taxable property than neighboring Manchester, Glastonbury and West Hartford.

"The ideal thing for the city of Hartford and for the state would be to adopt a funding system that actually allows cities to be healthy," Bronin said.

One issue making matters even more difficult for the mayor is the city's minor league baseball stadium that's been vacant and without any construction progress since June.

The mayor said he expects to collect modest revenue through ticket sales and parking fees related to the stadium, but scoffed at any notion that the stadium would be a self-sufficient venture, as was promised by previous Mayor Pedro Segarra.

One of the city's members of the audit commission predicts there will be much more than just the $100 million or so the city has to pay for the related stadium, development, and infrastructure costs.

Bruce Rubenstein told NBC Connecticut he expects the city to be responsible for costs associated with litigation related to the stadium.

"The costs will be lawyers at so much an hour to defend or prosecute the city’s interest, plus ongoing security at the ball stadium, repair and maintenance, indebtedness to bond holders, things of that nature."

Rubenstein said, "the jury is still out" on the way Bronin handled the stadium, specifically his argument that firing Centerplan and invoking the stadium's bond would be the best way to protect city taxpayers. If after expected legal fights the city has to pay even more, then Rubenstein says Bronin will have to answer to taxpayers.

"He was dealt a bad hand, it would be disingenuous if his strategy blows up."

Bronin said Thursday he fully expects to be involved with lawsuits, but said he's confident that the facts support the city's argument that Centerplan didn't handle its responsibility to complete the stadium.

"I don’t think it’s going to be a surprise to anyone that there’s going to be litigation after this stadium gets built. I think the city has a very strong position and we’ll deal with it when it comes. But the first order of business to prevent taxpayers from having to shell out millions and millions more to get this stadium completed."