Hartford council members want tighter controls on how bonuses are given out in the capitol city, especially in light of a projected $70 million budget deficit next year.
On Wednesday, Eyewitness News obtained a list of city employees getting the bonuses. In one case, Jose Colon-Rivas, who is the director of families, children, youth and recreation, got raises in 2011 and 2012 of more than $15,000 each on top of his $150,000 annual salary.
Colon-Rivas had no comment for Eyewitness News on his bonus, which are called ESI's or exceptional service increments.
However, a city spokesperson told the station Colon-Rivas' bonuses were justified based on outstanding performance and adds that they fall within the boundaries of the budget.
More than $18,000 worth of bonuses were given during the current fiscal year at a time when council members said 17 people were laid off in the capitol city.
Another example, Hartford Parking Authority Director Mark McGovern got bonuses in 2010 and 2011 that totaled more than $10,000. The document lists McGovern's salary as "not available."
Council members said they believe they should know about these ESI's and have a right to vote on them.
"In many cases we didn't know, over the last couple of years, the bonuses that had been awarded to city employees," said Ken Kennedy, who is a councilman in Hartford. "They may be very well deserved, but I think a review of that process and make it more open since this is public service. It would be more appropriate."
According to documents obtained by Eyewitness News, 12 ESI bonuses were given out in 2010, 20 in 2011 as well as 2012 and eight have been handed out so far this year.
"The mayor would consider a proposal by council that placed a cap on ESI's (i.e., 3%) that was consistent across all departments, but not a proposal where council determines who gets one," according to a statement from Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra's office. "That's an infringement on the mayor's job."
The mayor's office also said there has been a decrease in ESI's approved by Segarra.
"Since assuming office, the Mayor has been fiscally responsible and prudent in his spending and the ESI's reflect that consistency," the statement from the mayor's office said. "While he has approved $150,000 over three years in ESI's, the previous administration spent more than that in one year during the height of the economic downturn (2007-20080)."
The mayor's office said that the perception that "ESI's are handed out without thoughtful consideration is off and inconsistent."
"In the larger budget picture, these are tiny, tiny numbers," the statement from the mayor's office said. "It's $150,000 over three years when the previous administration approved more than that amount for one calendar year during the worst time of the recession."
This is quite a turnaround for the mayor because four years ago when he was a councilman, he was very strongly against ESI bonuses.
Some city councilors told Eyewitness News said they think there is enough support to pass an ordinance that will let them have the final say on bonuses.
However, they said they are not sure they have enough to overcome a veto by the mayor.
To view the complete list of bonuses for Hartford city employees, click the following link.
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