Details on the State of the City|
MAYOR DESTEFANO DELIVERS STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS, PROPOSES PROPERTY TAX FREEZE FOR SENIORS
HIGHLIGHTS ALSO INCLUDE: NEW ETHICS PLEDGE, STREET OUTREACH PROGRAM, AND EXPULSION POLICY
New Haven: Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. stood before the Board of Aldermen tonight and delivered his annual State of the City Address, calling for a property tax freeze for seniors, the formation of a Street Outreach Workers’ Program, and new initiatives surrounding truancy, expulsion, and ethics. “You see our choice is not whether change will come,” said DeStefano. “Change always comes. Rather the choice is whether change will be driven by our values.”
DeStefano began the address by pointing to some of the successes of 2006, particularly when it comes to youth. “In so many ways 2006 was a good year for the vast majority of our kids,” said DeStefano. The accomplishments include a high school drop out rate that continues to fall, “The number of high school graduates continuing on to 2 or 4 year colleges increased to 84% - higher than the state average,” said DeStefano. “The fact is that 90% of our kids are doing fine… but there’s another 10% of our kids - some in trouble and some very close to trouble that I want to touch on tonight.”
DeStefano announced the formation of a Street Outreach Workers’ Program, which will consist of 9 field staff working 7 days a week from a community based organization. Their mission will be facilitated by 2 full time community policing officers and their job will be to intervene in potentially violent situations; mediate among groups and individuals to prevent violence and retaliation; provide direct linkages to support for teens and young adults; and to do the outreach on the street with a team that comes from and that understands the community. The program coordinator will be on board by the 1st of May. Half the staff will be on the street this summer and the balance of staff by the start of school this year.
DeStefano also announced new policies regarding truancy and expulsion, in order to intervene with at-risk youth and help them make smart choices. The new truancy initiative will feature teams of police and truant officers conducting home visits on nights and weekends, and an aggressive effort to engage parents whose children aren’t coming to school. The new “2nd Chance” program is designed to reach out to students who have been expelled. The program will feature four major components: rigorous academics, behavior support, self control counseling, and job opportunities. “Together the street outreach worker program, our truancy initiative and the expulsion ‘2nd chance’ program will reach out to those 10% of our kids who are increasingly putting themselves, and those around them, at risk,” said DeStefano.
Half way through the State of the City Address DeStefano addressed New Haven’s finances, including the state ordered revaluation. First, he outlined the progress the city has made when it comes to collecting revenue, growing the grand list, and controlling costs. “Pension and health care liabilities are properly funded,” said DeStefano. “Our balance sheet remains positive. We have years of budget surpluses, no hidden liabilities and a reasonable fund balance of $13 million.” DeStefano continued though, “That said –approximately one half of the city’s revenues come from the state. And when only small state aid increases are passed along to new haven, larger property tax hikes immediately follow.”
Another challenge facing New Haven is the state ordered property revaluation. DeStefano described the impact revaluation will have on the city’s grand list. “The new taxable grand list totals more than $6.2 billion – that’s a 56% increase over last year’s $4 billion grand list. And about $1.6 billion of that $2.2 billion increase comes from 1 to 4 unit buildings – some 14,000 of which are owner occupants.” DeStefano pointed out that homeowners are seeing large increases in the value and equity in their homes, but he added that this good news is tempered by the fact that properties that see the largest increases in value will see the tax burden shift towards them. People on fixed incomes, typically the elderly, would be hurt most. To help senior homeowners, DeStefano is proposing a property tax freeze for senior households earning $50,000 or less. Under the plan the tax rate for those seniors would remain frozen at the current level for as long as they live in and home the home. “This will keep our seniors in the house where they have spent their lives, and raised their kids, on every street in every neighborhood of the city,” said DeStefano.”
Finally, DeStefano touched on his commitment to running an ethical administration, “… I do know that you don’t have to be sick, to get better. So here are some suggestions on how we can get better.” The Mayor stated his intention to work with the Board of Aldermen on revising the city ethics ordinance and touted the fact that New Haven will be the first city in Connecticut to hold a publicly financed election of any kind. “By allocating money for the democracy fund the board is helping to level the playing field and make public office more accessible for everyone,” said DeStefano” DeStefano also called on all city department heads to sign a new ethics pledge that would prevent a revolving door between the public and private sectors that exists elsewhere.
Joining DeStefano in the Aldermanic Chambers were Michael Vollero, a New Haven Public School teacher and Connecticut National Guard member who earned a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq; and Tracy Suggs and Sonda Whitfield, each the mother of a 13 year-old who was killed in New Haven last year. DeStefano acknowledged each of these individuals for their character and contributions to the community,
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