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I-TEAM INVESTIGATION

Everyday people could feel the pinch if Hartford declares bankruptcy

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Hartford City Hall (WFSB file photo) Hartford City Hall (WFSB file photo)
HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) -

Thursday night, the I-Team aired a story about what would happen if the cash-strapped City of Hartford were to declare bankruptcy.

Friday, the I-Team conducted a followup about whether or not the city's citizens could feel the pain if the capital city goes down that road.

It's unclear if Hartford would pursue bankruptcy like what happened in Central Falls, RI, and that may be a good thing.

Everyone there agreed that the clean start provided by bankruptcy came with a hefty short term price.

With a $30 million shortfall predicted for next year and finances already stretched, many are already talking about the possibility that Hartford could end up in bankruptcy.

When the I-Team went to Central Falls this month, it found a city just emerging from a dark period.

"Central Falls saw tax increases [and] services cut, but it was an opportunity for the community to turn around, get new leadership, get young people involved and I can tell you now that we're doing much better," said Mayor James Diossa, Central Falls, RI.

Diossa took over after the state forced the city of 20,000 into bankruptcy in 2011. He told the I-Team that it's been a dark five years in his city with multiple double digit tax increases.

However, things are finally improving.

That's what the I-Team heard from Zack Kucukkaya, who just moved back to Central Falls to open a store. He credited the city's new administration with turning things around.

"He's allowing businesses to come in," Kucukkaya said. "This way the tax burden is not just on the few that are here. It's absolutely made a big difference.  And it's a better city and it's thriving."

He admitted that it wasn't all rosy.

Kucukkaya said his mother has a small business nearby and struggled during the down years.

He said those tough times forced the city to take a hard look in the mirror.

"If it goes bankrupt, it's not because the store's not making money, it's because I don't know how to manage it," Kucukkaya said. "If the politicians of the city don't know how to manage it, of course it's going to go bankrupt."

Elizabeth Crowley had a different view of the turnaround.

A state senator representing Central Falls and nearby Pawtucket, she said she's also a former Central Falls employee.

Now retired, she and others saw their pensions cut by 50 percent.

"How would you like to wake up one morning and they say 'hey, there's no more money and we're not going to pay you,'" Crowley said.

She said she counted herself lucky. She was young enough to adapt. She knew former police officers and firefighters who found out at 80 years old that not only was their pension chopped in half, but that they also lost their medical benefits and had to pay a $10,000 penalty to join medicare late.

"They say you have to go way down before you can go way up?" Crowley said. "Well Central Falls was down about as far as you can go. Charters, laws, nothing prevails. t's the bankruptcy court that prevails."

Now the question is whether that process comes to Hartford.

The answer could come next year.

Meanwhile in Central Falls, people said they have a mixed message about it.

They said the light at the end of the tunnel is bright, at least there, but every single person the I-Team spoke with made sure to say the ride through the tunnel itself was a rough one.

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