Mayor Luke Bronin made a formal appeal Tuesday for state oversight, asking a panel appointed by lawmakers and the governor to monitor Hartford’s finances in exchange for offering the city tens of millions of dollars.
Bronin sent the request to Ben Barnes, secretary of Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management and a co-chair of the newly formed oversight board. Barnes said he expects to approve the mayor’s petition in the coming days, and notify the panel at its next meeting Jan. 4.
“My intention is to respond pretty quickly because we have stuff to do,” Barnes said. In the coming months, Hartford will submit a financial plan to the board and negotiate a contract for state-subsidized debt payments.
Bronin has asked for at least $40 million in additional aid this year. Legislators, as part of the budget adopted in October, set aside $28 million in a special account for distressed municipalities and another $20 million for debt assistance to those communities. If Hartford’s request is approved, the city would probably get the majority of those funds.
But its financial transactions will be closely watched by the 11-member oversight panel, which has the power to reject new union contracts and arbitration awards. The group will also review Hartford’s budgets and must approve any new debt issued by the city.
“As you know, I have advocated for and welcomed the establishment of an accountability board,” Bronin wrote in his letter Tuesday. “Over the past two years, in the face of unprecedented fiscal crisis and longstanding structural deficits, we have worked to achieve long-term sustainability for our capital city.”
The board ranks municipalities based on their fiscal outlook. Tier one is the least serious, while a tier four ranking is the most dire. Hartford would start at a tier three status.
To qualify for that, a town or city must have a bond rating that is below investment grade, a negative fund balance or an equalized tax rate of 30 mills or higher, and receive 30 percent or more of its revenue from the state.
Hartford’s bond ratings have plunged deep into junk territory; it has a $65 million deficit this year; and its tax rate is 74.29 mills, by far the highest in Connecticut.
If the city’s financial situation doesn’t improve, it could move to the fourth tier of oversight as early as April, though Hartford leaders have said they are opposed to that. Under a tier four ranking, the board would control city spending and could select its own arbitrator to preside over union discussions.
Hartford’s city council last week authorized Bronin to seek the oversight and additional funds from the state.