A for fiscal year 2013 survived a split City Council vote on Monday, with some members doubting the need for layoffs in public safety departments.
At the second reading of the budget, the council voted 4-3 in favor of an appropriation ordinance for a $40,626,405 municipal budget and 5-2 in favor of a $42,466,252 appropriation ordinance for the . The agenda called for a third and final reading on Monday as well, but the council unanimously amended the item to allow the final reading to take place separately prior to the May 31 deadline.
“There’s still too much going on in this budget, and we need more time to address it properly,” said Councilor Adam Sprecace.
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Police and fire layoffs
On Thursday, Mayor Daryl Finizio said that under the budget proposal the will have to and leave five vacant positions unbudgeted. He said the will have to fire 10 police officers while leaving 11 vacant positions unbudgeted.
The council is proposing an $11,390,198 police budget and $7,994,314 fire budget. The police budget is an $890,453 cut from , while the fire budget represents an $840,617 cut from the request.
Personnel Coordinator Bernadette Welch said on Friday that the layoffs will save an estimated $580,000 in the police department and $545,000 in the fire department. She said the high number of layoffs is needed to bring the budgets down to the level requested by the council because such terminations result in increased unemployment and overtime costs.
Finizio said on Friday that the administration is and that he hopes an agreement can be reached where layoffs are not necessary. Rocco Basilica, president of New London Fire Fighters Local 1522, said the union is willing to negotiate but also said he considered that the department is being unfairly targeted.
“Every day, the men and women of the New London Fire Department put their lives on the line,” said Basilica. “That is not a dramatic statement. That is a fact.”
Council President Michael Passero and Sprecace both said they do not think that layoffs were necessary in the departments under their current budgets. Passero characterized Finizio’s declaration that layoffs are possible as a “surprise announcement” and said he still considers that there are adequate funds to cover the departments’ expenses.
“I don’t believe this budget requires layoffs,” said Passero. “We’ve supported the administration’s reorganization and up until Thursday I thought we were going to work collaboratively to present it to the public. And I’m hopeful that we can still do it.”
Sprecace estimated that the layoffs will result in $500,000 in additional overtime costs over the actual number for the current fiscal year.
“I think there is sufficient money to fund the fire department where it is now,” he said.
Finizio said he made the announcement after talks with the unions stalled in order to give the maximum amount of time to have the council consider the matter and to allow negotiations with the unions proceed. He said Fire Chief Ron Samul told him he would have to hand out 25 pink slips at the proposed funding level, and that this is the only option available to meet the budget unless union negotiations are successful or the council reinstates funding.
“It’s my signature for every single person that loses their job,” said Finizio. “I have to live with it. And I don’t want to do it.”
Councilor John Maynard said he was not surprised by the announcement of potential layoffs, saying Finizio had previously said layoffs would be likely be necessary due to budget cuts. However, Maynard also criticized the decision to and retain the position while firing officers. He also said he considered that the council had ceded control to Finizio and department heads on where layoffs should take place.
“This council voted 5-2 to give him the authority to do that,” said Maynard.
Maynard was referencing an in which the council said they would let Police Chief Margaret Ackley would decide where in her department any cuts would take place. This vote stepped back from a as part of budget reductions in the police department.
Passero said councilors can still make recommendations for line item cuts at the second and third budget readings. Sprecace said the council still controls the city finances. He said that while the council can recommend eliminating funds for specific positions, the mayor has the ability to use a line item veto to overturn these decisions.
“We didn’t relinquish anything,” said Sprecace.
Maynard said he would prefer to make cuts at the administrative level rather than at the bottom. He suggested that the council should make line item cuts to put the responsibility on Finizio for retaining any such positions the council might decide to cut, and noted that the council can also overturn a mayoral veto with six votes.
President Pro Tempore Wade Hyslop said the decision on which areas to cut if necessary falls to department heads.
“We control the purse strings, yes. We control the bottom line, yes,” said Hyslop. “But it’s up to the departments to make that work.”
Hyslop and Nolan previously opposed the proposed municipal budget after the council voted to make an additional two percent cut to existing decreases in order to bring the tax increase down to 8.33 percent. They remained opposed to the proposed budget on the second reading. Maynard also dissented, saying he would not support the budget until he considers that the council has the authority to make line item cuts.
The proposal for the school budget passed without discussion, with Hyslop and Nolan opposed.