Opponents to a revised municipal budget and tax rate are preparing for a new petition drive to challenge the measures, despite a city legal opinion that a second referendum cannot take place at this point.
City Clerk Nathan Caron said Bill Cornish, a businessman who opposed the first budget, visited his office on Friday morning to get information related to petitioning the city. Another group of residents visited Caron in the afternoon and picked up the same information as well as a copy of a memo sent to Caron by Mayor Daryl Finizio outlining the city’s legal stance on a second referendum.
The and its tax rate of 27.22 were defeated at a Sept. 18 referendum. The City Council reduced the budget to $41,264,459 with a tax rate of 26.22. The first tax represented a 7.5 percent increase over the 2012 rate of 25.31, while the new rate is a 5.1 percent increase.
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Some residents, including the organization Lower Our Taxes, said they would try to challenge the second budget as well. However, Law Director Jeffrey Londregan said a second referendum should not be approved at this time because the city expenditures in the 2013 fiscal year have reached a threshold of 25 percent of the 2012 budget stipulated in the charter.
Londregan based the decision on a 2003 precedent, where the law director said the city should not approve a fourth challenge to the 2004 budget because it would be impossible to establish a city budget in the event of a continued cycle of referendums. He said the City Charter allows residents to petition the budget, but it was his opinion that when read as a whole the charter prevents challenges to the budget after the city expends an amount equal to 25 percent of the prior year's budget.
Finizio approved the appropriation ordinance for the 2013 budget and tax rate on Thursday. He also told Caron that based on the legal opinion, the City Clerk’s Office should not “issue, accept, or certify any petitions related to the annual appropriation ordinance for the city of New London for fiscal year 2012-13.”
Caron said the office does not issue documentation for petitions, but that residents base their petitions on state statutes. He said Londregan clarified that he may accept a petition related to the budget, but he may not begin the process for certifying it.
“It’s going to get stamped in and received for record, absolutely, but I cannot act on it and I cannot certify it by virtue of the law director’s opinion,” Caron said.
Caron said he could defer to another legal opinion upon receipt of a petition. However, he said he contacted the Secretary of State’s Office and was told that they only have jurisdiction over nominating petitions, while legal opinions on municipal matters are deferred to local legal authorities.
Kathleen Mitchell, a resident who visited Caron on Thursday afternoon, said she thought that the charter still allows for a referendum.
“I don’t like anybody telling me I can’t do something that the charter says I can do,” she said.
Shannon Brenek said she will determine whether Cornish was representing LOT in his visit and will work with the organization to collect signatures if that is the case. A total of 483 signatures were necessary to certify the petition that challenged the first budget and tax rate.
A legal opinion also halted a petition effort last year to reject a tax abatement for a planned residential development at Fort Trumbull or send the issue to a referendum vote. In that matter, the law director determined that the City Council’s vote on the abatement did not constitute an action that could be contested by a petition.