On April 10, I handed over my no-tax increase budget to the Common Council for their review and consideration. The budget is currently being looked over by all members of the Council’s subcommittees; a public hearing was held on April 30th.
As part of my budget package to the Council, I also presented to them a budget addendum that features 31 ideas for generating more revenue. We are continually looking to find new ways to keep living in New Britain affordable while maintaining the essential services our residents and businesses have come to expect. The money-making ideas were provided to help spark a conversation and spur a change in mindset about how we must get creative and innovative during these challenging times. We have cut almost $65 million out of the City budget in the last five years. Now we need to look at the balance of cutting versus increasing revenues. How do we do that?
A large portion of our funding, particularly for the school district, is reliant upon the state of Connecticut. We know that this funding is not always going to be there at levels we are receiving now, so we must be prudent and plan for the future. As the sign that hangs in my office states, “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.”
The time is now to think outside the box and get serious about the sustainability of our operations.
The package provided has many options. Here’s one: the City of New Britain’s metered parking program. Upgrades to the current system to accept all forms of payment, automating parking garages, expanding hours, and exploring the creation of new parking lots with pay kiosk systems, is one suggestion to help generate additional revenue. These upgrades will also make parking a breeze for visitors.
Also – as you may remember, 48 percent of New Britain’s property owners do not pay local property taxes due to exemptions. While the state provides some relief in the form of Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), our police, fire, and EMS responders still must cover the costs of providing services to these tax-exempt institutions. That’s why I have proposed creating a service fee to be charged to these property owners so that we can continue to provide excellent emergency service. Sure, some state changes would be necessary to make this feasible, but it’s a conversation starter.
How about allowing the Parks and Recreation Department to lease the Gazebo at Walnut Hill Park and specific parking spots at Stanley Quarter and AW parks for food trucks?
To cut down on absentee landlords, I have also suggested that the Building and Health Department institute a fine of up to $99 on top of existing blight violations for parcels and property owners that have more than three blight violations in one calendar year. Repeat offenders are not good neighbors. This would generate revenue and keep our neighborhoods clean.
Another creative solution to generate additional revenue is to sell advertising space on city-owned vehicles, which would then benefit our Economic Development Office’s marketing initiatives. We could also sell additional advertising space on items owned by the City. This would be a boost for the City and local businesses looking to generate traction.
Many other suggestions in my package touch on a variety of areas: fee increases for park rentals to make them more in line with surrounding communities; adding criminal penalties to property owners who are cited three or more times in a year; and purchasing a City-owned tow truck to better enforce tow violations, such as during winter storms (right now we contract out for this service).
These are just a few of the suggestions. In all, these proposals have the potential to bring in more than $3 million in additional revenue. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and work together for the sake of New Britain’s future.
Erin Stewart is the mayor of New Britain.