Reprint of Waterbury Republican article by Penelope Overton: Who will bite the bullet?

Who will bite the bullet?
Waterbury aldermen ask department heads to forfeit raises, cut staff

WATERBURY — The fiscal bloodletting has begun.

On Tuesday, during the first budget committee workshop of a difficult budget season, the Board of Aldermen started asking department heads across the city to forfeit raises and, if necessary, their staff.

“We have no pity this year, OK?” Alderman Frank A. Burgio Sr. told city Auditor James Berthelson after asking him to give up his raise. “People are struggling. It’s time for us to all come together.”

Aldermen are eager to find a way to cut, if not eliminate, a proposed 2.8-mil tax increase. For the average taxpayer, who owns a home assessed at $110,000, that is a $300 a year tax increase.

Berthelson was obviously flummoxed. He hemmed and hawed when Alderman Anne P. Phelan asked him repeatedly if he would give back a proposed $2,550 a year raise. He earns $84,975 a year now.

In the end, Berthelson offered to “unhappily” take a 2 ½ percent hike instead of a 3 percent hike. It was not the answer that [JUMP]the members of the budget committee wanted to hear.

Eight of the 10 department heads reporting before the committee on Tuesday had been slated for a raise in Mayor Michael J. Jarjura’s budget proposal this year. Two did not have a raise scheduled.

Of those eight, Berthelson and two others, registrars of voters Nancy Vitarelli and Patricia Mulhall, did not offer to give up their full raises. Both registrars told the committee to “do what you have to do.”

Most of the department heads offered to give up the raises as a kind of symbolic sign of faith with city workers, some of whom may be laid off, and taxpayers, who may face up to a 2.8-mill tax increase.

“Go ahead, take it,” said City Clerk Michael Dalton of a $6,300 raise. That would have increased his annual salary from $53,354 to $59,653, a total set by charter. “I gave mine back last year, too.”

Even the aldermen agreed to “share the pain.” The board agreed the aldermen should forgo $1,000 of their $4,000 annual stipend. The board president, Paul K. Pernerewski Jr., gave up $2,000 of a $6,000 stipend.

Mayor Michael J. Jarjura said he hadn’t decided whether he will give back $12,597 of his $119,306 annual salary. In past years, he returned it as a way of forgoing his raise but keeping his full salary in the budget.

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