Voting along the same lines as their original decision on the budget four months ago, the City Council passed a revised municipal budget and tax rate tonight.
Councilors voted 5-2 in favor of a $41,264,459 and a tax rate of 26.6 per $1,000, a 5.1 percent tax increase over the 2012 fiscal year tax rate of 25.31. The vote follows the rejection of the original $42.3 million budget and 7.5 percent tax increase at a Sept. 18 referendum.
Most of the budget reduction comes from anticipated savings through debt refinancing as well as cuts from the New London Police Department and Finance Department. Some smaller reductions and increases are also included in the budget.
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Supporters of the budget said they felt the budget reflected the needs of the city as well as challenges such as revenue shortfalls. Opponents of the prior budget have said they are not satisfied with the current budget and will again try to petition the budget to go before a referendum vote.
Councilor Adam Sprecace, who supported the original budget but later advocated overturning it at referendum after saying the Finance Department had not provided sufficient detailed budget information to the public, said he was in favor of passing the revised budget. The vote on the budget was delayed from Sept. 27 after Sprecace said several of these details were missing from the revised budget document.
Sprecace said he had worked with the Finance Department to indicate which information he wanted to have included in the budget. He said the department had provided these details with the exception of employee benefits by individual, but that the Finance Department outlined the benefits expended on each department and he considered this to be sufficient.
“This is the level of detail that I think needs to be included in every fiscal year budget from here on,” he said.
Sprecace also said the budget is about $750,000 less than the 2012 municipal budget, and that he thinks there is sufficient money in the police budget to begin the hiring process to fill six unbudgeted vacancies without impacting the 2013 budget. He said the budget also takes into account reduced revenues from state grants and other sources.
“You can see why a tax increase is necessary, or at least I can,” he said. “I think where we are right now is a place I’m comfortable with.”
Council President Michael Passero said he considered that the council and administration have worked diligently on the budget for several months. He also said the city will be taking a closer look at its fiscal history following a recent council decision to approve operational audits in 10 departments.
“We’re hoping to get a budget in place, and we’re hoping to get down to work policing our budget,” said Passero. “I think it’s going to be tight, and I only hope we’re going to be able to make it to the end of our fiscal year without making additional cuts.”
Councilor President Pro Tempore Wade Hyslop and Councilors Donald Macrino and Anthony Nolan also supported the budget and tax rate.
Councilor John Maynard said he thought the council had not worked sufficiently beyond the recommendations made by Finance Director Jeff Smith following the referendum. During Finance Committee discussions, Maynard unsuccessfully recommended cutting several administrative salaries, saying he would prefer such reductions to cutting from the NLPD.
“I feel that the council has let the citizens of New London down,” he said.
Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran expressed concerns over the effects of the cut to the NLPD budget as well as the debt refinancing. She said she thought the budget would be a significant burden to New London taxpayers in part to pay municipal salaries significantly higher than the city’s median income.
“There should be shared sacrifice in this budget,” she said.
During the public comment section, resident Carl Lee also said the council should not cut money from the NLPD budget.
“It takes a good year to train these guys,” he said. “I’m not asking you I’m begging you. Anyone who listens to the scanner knows that our streets aren’t all that safe.”
The council’s original municipal budget, approved on June 19, was $42,323,256 with a tax rate of 27.22, a 7.5 percent tax increase. The vote was 5-2 in favor.
An effort to petition the municipal budget and tax rate to put them before a referendum vote was successful, and both were defeated in a Sept. 18 vote. A total of 1,436 voters were against the budget while 1,007 were in favor of it, and the tax rate was defeated in a 1,470 to 963 vote.
After three meetings, the Finance Committee voted 2-1 on Sept. 25 to accept Smith’s budget recommendation. Most of the reduction is a result of $500,000 in savings from debt refinancing, which Smith said would be feasible under current rates. He warned that further cuts would be necessary if smaller savings are realized when refinancing is done in November.
Another $280,000 was taken from the Finance Department due to a decision by Dr. Stephen Adamowski, a special master appointed to the New London Public Schools, to stop a plan to have the department absorb the expenses of the school district’s business office. The proposal also cuts $250,000 from the NLPD, most of which would result from leaving six vacant positions unbudgeted.
The budget makes a number of smaller adjustments resulting in both budget increases and decreases. These include $46,966 cut from personnel costs due to a termination in the mayor’s office, a $160,000 reduction to 60-day collections revenue to correct accounting procedures, and a $73,150 increase to the law department budget to bring it to the level of the department’s average spending in the past five years.
The $160,000 revenue shortfall was filled through the application of $40,000 from a COPS Universal Hiring Grant and $120,000 in employee benefit reductions. Smith recommended that the money be taken from police fringe benefits due to vacancies there, but Sprecace made an amendment to find the benefit reductions in other departments due to the existing cut to the NLPD. The amendment passed 4-2.
The budget and tax rate went before the full council for a vote on Sept. 27, but was delayed to today to allow the Finance Department to assemble a more complete budget document.