Those that don't know me may recognize my name from my first Patch blog article, . I was motivated to write that article at a turning point in New London's financial history because of the confusion and misinformation that immediately followed the revelation of our city's deficit. While some used to obfuscate the true scope of the problem, others attempted to assert that the Mayor had somehow managed to spend that amount of money on office furniture during his first month of office. Others have gone even further to claim the deficit was fabricated for some mysterious agenda. Though these claims have all proved to be quite false, today the same people are beating the same drums in the name of imposing massive austerity on the city of New London.
In the months since Mayor Daryl Finizio announced our deficit, there have been numerous controversies and a tug of war with the city council. Upon announcing that we would need to raise taxes 20% to fund the city as it was structured, our government exercised its checks and balances to the fullest. Budget after budget put forth by the administration was rejected by the city council as the city continued to bleed resources. Further cuts and a lower tax rate were demanded each time until we finally arrived at the 7.53% tax increase approved by the council, which has now been put to referendum on September 18th. 91% of this tax increase represents correcting inflated revenues I addressed in my first blog article, while the other 9% accounts for increases in debt service and insurance premiums.
The process the city government went through to meet the constraints immediately put forth by the discovery of the deficit was a restructuring of almost every department that is unprecedented in New London history:
The Department of Public works . The Building Department was reduced to two and a half positions. To cover two lost positions, one new position was created to split it's time between both the Department of Public Works and the Building Department. Meanwhile, and with an alarming frequency and our city's infrastructure continues to deteriorate. Union contract renegotiations, staff reductions, and retirements in both the and have been made with a tremendous effort from all involved to cut $1 million from each department as violent crime and fires persist throughout the city. The administration has also made cuts, resorting to working unpaid overtime, paying for office supplies out of their own pockets, and absorbing responsibilities of other departments. , our Chief Administrative Officer, must now take on a second job, since Bernadette Welch's position as , even after her instrumental efforts in the restructuring of our government. The only department that hasn't seen cuts is the financial department, which is still struggling to reconcile our previously mismanaged books.
Before this deficit was discovered, the city had 288 employees. Now we are down to 257, as 31 jobs have already been eliminated, and future vacancies will remain empty by attrition. . Further cuts will mean our buildings and roads will continue to deteriorate and become less safe. Many as our ability to borrow money for future improvements diminishes. We have no financial cushion. A winter like the one we had two years ago could throw us into bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is a grim prospect.
While both the and the have endorsed this budget, the , in favor of even more draconian austerity than we've already seen. This austerity has been forced upon us after years of promised services and further improvements at a low tax rate. It was great to have our cake and eat it too, but now we've discovered the painful sting of reality, and are forced to pay the taxes they so generously kept low as expenses rose and revenues failed to meet unrealistic expectations. Even our one Republican Councilor, Adam Sprecace, voted for this budget, only to change his mind upon the Republican Town Committee's rejection of it.
“There’s no way to verify that the money that’s being requested in the budget that’s on the website is required,” said Sprecace. He should have used this sort of scrutiny when the revenue figures that put us into this mess were voted on. Sprecace now says he had not received sufficient information on longevity funds and pension contributions for each municipal employee. Perhaps this specific piece of information for each of our remaining 257 employees would be made available sooner by our Personnel Coordinator if the position still existed. I interpret this tactic is feigning ignorance and passing the buck the same way the buck was passed to various department heads and financial advisers when I demanded answers about inflated revenues. The "budget on the website" Sprecace is referring to is this 71 page document. It seems quite thorough to me.
Of course, I can't discuss those who appose this budget without mentioning the two councilors that actually voted against the approved budget. Both Councilors Marie Friess-McSparran and John Maynard have voted against this budget, and even the new contract with the New London Firefighters Local 1522. Their continued obstructionism is baffling, especially considering they were Democratic candidates that I and the unions supported during the election. It's possible they do indeed lack an understanding of the budget and union contracts, as that has been their excuse time and time again, but ignorance is not an excuse to decimate a city or lay off workers. As a member of the Democratic Town Committee, I will not support the reelection of any council member that uses ignorance as a tool for obstruction.
New London has immense potential, but it will not be met if everyone is fighting for scraps. We must work together to support each other and our government. We must keep our streets, our buildings, and our citizen's safe. We must preserve our services, maintain our solvency and bond rating, and strengthen development prospects. We have already cut the fat. Cutting off limbs won't help us dig ourselves out of this financial pit. We must vote YES and YES again on September 18.