Top 10 Courant Stories Of 2017 No. 8: Hartford Bankruptcy And State Oversight

Hartford’s financial woes reached a crescendo in September, when Mayor Luke Bronin threatened to file for bankruptcy if the state didn’t send the city additional aid in short order.

Bronin said Hartford would be unable to pay its bills in 60 days, deepening concerns about the city’s future. Lawmakers, who were months into the new fiscal year without a state budget, adopted a spending plan Oct. 31 — just days before the mayor’s deadline.

But for weeks leading up to the budget passage, city workers and residents bristled with uncertainty. Homeowners worried what a bankruptcy filing would do to home values. Union members and retirees feared cuts to pensions and benefits. Some consulted attorneys or union leadership to prepare for a bankruptcy-related court battle.

Before it could get that far, legislators agreed to provide Hartford with at least $40 million more this year — on top of an expected $270 million — but said the city must be subject to state oversight.

An 11-member board has been appointed to oversee finances in any Connecticut city that requests extra state aid, and $48 million was set aside to assist the distressed municipalities. Lawmakers said Hartford will probably receive most of that money.

Some of the aid will come in the form of state-subsidized debt payments. Hartford’s debt has been escalating, and annual contributions are estimated to top $60 million by 2021.

While the city’s immediate cash-flow problems have been solved, Hartford still faces a $65 million deficit this fiscal year. In the coming weeks, city leaders must create a financial plan to share with the state, and begin negotiations to restructure Hartford’s debt.

If the outlook doesn’t improve, the city could face more strenuous oversight by the state this spring.

Editor's note: The Courant selected the top 10 news stories for 2017. Hartford’s bankruptcy scare is No. 8.

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