By Aaron Charney
Ed. Note: At last week’s City Council meeting approving the five-year plan, Aaron Charney was the only dissenting vote. We asked him to explain his ideas for the city in an op-ed. The following is his response to that request.
With the newly approved Five-Year Plan the city is repeating an error of its recent past. The plan is relying on state money, $6 million next year and decreasing from there that is unapproved and not promised by the state. Two years ago the O’Brien administration gambled its budget on additional state money, which was in the governor’s budget that never arrived. That helped put us under Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) oversight today.
A few MARB members have expressed grave concerns about the plan. Former United States Comptroller General David M. Walker, who voted against the five-year plan, thinks relying on money that isn’t promised will be disastrous. He also thinks the city can cut millions from its budget and he would know. As United States Comptroller General he worked for 10 years making the federal government more fiscally responsible and efficient. Mr. Walker also warned the city that if we keep raising taxes we will become noncompetitive for business. When someone of his expertise talks we should listen.
At last week’s council meeting I asked if there was a “Plan B” and I was told there wasn’t one. Without proper planning I fear the city’s leaders will look for the easy way out and raise taxes. Cutting spending is difficult. Finding efficiencies is time consuming. It is easy for leadership to increase the mill rate on paper. This is why during that meeting I raised several ideas to help our future.
First, I think we need to look to our past. The city needs a forensic audit going back several years. East Haven just audited its education budget and found significant failures to guard against fraud and waste. New Canaan investigated and found more than $400,000 was stolen by cafeteria workers over four years. An investigation will show where we need to improve, and if there was criminal activity then those individuals should be prosecuted.
The second idea was for the city to implement a civil service, which is used by surrounding communities, before hiring any employees. The city should be hiring qualified individuals and not cronies. There should be an exam with preference points for residents and veterans. Unqualified workers cost the city’s time and money.
My third idea was for the city to approach the University of New Haven and Yale, and demand they help. Quinnipiac is voluntarily giving Hamden $1.4 million. Yale voluntarily gave New Haven more than $8 million last year. This year both Yale and UNH would be paying more than $3 million in taxes to the city and more than $1 million to the fire departments if they were not exempt. A large one-time payment is only fair and would help us solve my next request.
The city needs to shop around for health insurance. The city has shopped around for a new carrier for years because it owes Anthem $2 million for past claims. Being able to shop around has the potential to save millions.