February 19, 2018 2 COMMENTS
Other Voices

A blueprint to turn around Hartford

Oz Griebel

Over the last 20 years, we have invested billions of our federal and state tax dollars in Hartford and Connecticut's other urban centers.

The investment in Hartford has resulted in the establishment of the Connecticut Science Center, the renovation of the G. Fox building, major improvements to The Bushnell, Hartford Stage and the Wadsworth Atheneum, the launch of the University of St. Joseph School of Pharmacy, the relocation of the UConn campus from West Hartford, and several thousand new apartment units.

At the same time, Hartford's mill rate has increased to nearly 75, preventing any major unsubsidized private investment. The real property component of the Grand List plummeted by more than 37 percent over the last 20 years from $4.8 billion to $3 billion.

The only way to reverse this trend is to launch a meaningful and radical restructuring of Hartford's assessment and taxing policies to restore the confidence of homeowners and commercial investors. That confidence is critical to driving the growth in the Grand List needed to produce a competitive mill rate of 50 or lower over the next five years.

Much has been made of the city's current fiscal crisis, including talk of a bankruptcy filing. While three major property owners have pledged financial support, the state government has reacted with another bailout plan that will neither accomplish reform nor reduce the mill rate.

While the creation of the Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) will be helpful, tackling the city's fiscal crisis requires a "grand plan" comparable to the one implemented by Detroit as part of its bankruptcy.

Hartford's major government and private-sector stakeholders must create such a strategic plan prior to the adoption of the city's budget for fiscal 2019. The plan must be approved by the MARB before the state provides any additional financial support to the city.

Such a collaborative approach is the only way the city will achieve the comprehensive and sustainable fiscal reform required by Aetna, The Hartford and Travelers to deliver on their extraordinary commitment of $50 million of financial assistance over five years. As importantly, it is the only way to reignite the confidence needed by the private sector to invest on an unsubsidized basis.

During my last year at the MetroHartford Alliance, we provided city leadership and major property owners with the draft of such a plan.

The key elements include:

• Capping the growth in the city's annual budget for the next five years;

• Privatizing certain city services;

• Consolidating the Department of Public Works and information technology functions of the city and its schools;

• Increasing the assessment ratio for residential housing to 70 percent;

• Converting all state-owned office buildings to private ownership;

• Securing an agreement from the larger commercial property owners that they will pay the same amount of property taxes as they did in fiscal 2017 for five years regardless of any decrease in the mill rate;

• Working with the larger tax-exempt properties to determine a fair rate of taxation.

We also recommended two additional steps for a compelling regional strategy.

The first is for The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to take the lead to fund and structure a robust marketing plan that promotes the region's assets and focuses on jobs growth and attracting private-sector investment.

The second action is for the Capital Region Council of Governments to develop a comprehensive plan to deliver key municipal services across its 39 towns on a more cost-effective basis.

The city's fiscal crisis provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to collaborate on a radical and effective approach to ensure fiscal stability and economic and job growth.

Oz Griebel is the former CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance and is running for governor as an independent.

Comments

cdward

02/21/18 AT 08:27 AM
Really Oz?

Ask "The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to take the lead to fund and structure a robust marketing plan that promotes the region's assets and focuses on jobs growth and attracting private-sector investment"????

Wasn't that supposed to be your job when you were the head of the MetroHartford Alliance?

Harry Kenworthy

02/21/18 AT 08:26 AM
Hi Oz - Several other areas would be important to do:
1. Consolidate all the duplicate functions - look at the functions that are duplicated between the city and the Hartford school system - IT, HR, Finance, Procurement, Facilities Management, etc. When this was recommended previously, both the common council and school board both agreed this should be done as long as the other "side" would give up their staff = ego and loss of power thinking prevailed. Thinking for the greater good of the City was and still is lacking. This is a rehash of my op-ed article in the Hartford Courant in December, 2015.

2. Partner more with CRCOG (Capital Region Council of Governments) - leverage CRCOG capabilities and cut back on duplicated city resources.

3. An example - Common council admin assistants - there are too many people doing this. When I participated in a previous Hartford fiscal task force, the recommendation was made that the admin support could be changed from 9 to 3. This would save more that $400,000. The Council, at the time, agreed that this was definitely worth doing "as long as I don't lose my admin person" - is this thinking for the greater good? Recently, one of the council members brought this up again as something that could be done to "lead by example" given the severe financial crisis in the city - once again, the council members refused to consider this - a great example of poor understanding and leadership. Once again, this is an example of ego, power, and lack of knowledge which embodies many elected officials.

Objective fresh looks should be taken to see "what is the right thing to do for the greater good?" and then figure out how to get there vs."we can't do this because", or "this diminishes my span of importance or power". This defines what we should expect out of our elected leaders. Make the tough decisions as these people have been theoretically elected to "Lead".

Applying Lean principles to identify and remove admin process wastes and to identify and solve problems. There are numerous ways to create more employee engagement, however, given the current climate with city employees, this will be more difficult to do. Employees know what things they are doing that are frustrating, should be eliminated, etc.

An example,when I did some pro bono work for the city 10 years ago, the city had 5 police chiefs in an 8 year span. Police officers on the beat were filling our paperwork from multiple chiefs ago. Why? - because managers and supervisors never have the time to truly "learn to see" what is going on in all of their key processes. Whenever managers are able to see, managers are amazed at what is going on that they weren't even aware of. This is not a matter of people not working hard. This is based on work that shouldn't even be done. Activities and work get added to processes, but rarely subtracted. We have worked with Phoenix, Ft. Worth, Boca Raton, and numerous other cities and counties where Lean has been embraced. Don't take this as a pitch to do work for the city - it's a statement, on my part, of frustration to see what could be possible that isn't being adequately addressed.

Will all of my above comments close the current budget crisis - no! Serious financial restructuring of the employee benefit obligations will need to be addressed. Like the State of Connecticut, the City of Hartford was also blessed with elected officials over 20 years that really didn't know how to exert financial responsibility and continued to kick the can down the road until the little can became a garbage truck. There are numerous examples of much more responsible elected leadership in the country who have avoided these accumulated messes.

Being an elected official should never be a popularity contest (but usually is). Press candidates for concrete actions and proposals and track their results.
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