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City Council Recommends 8.33 Percent Tax Increase

In budget talks, councilors vote 5-2 in favor of just over $4 million reduction to mayor’s requested expenditures

The City Council approved cutting just over $4 million in expenditures from on Monday after a grueling series of discussions.

Councilors voted 5-2 to approve a $42,466,252 municipal budget for fiscal year 2013. Compared to Finizio's budget, this represents a $4,019,291 decrease in expenditures and a $452,000 increase in additional revenue. The council unanimously approved a $40,626,405 budget for .

Finizio had proposed an $87,111,948 budget, which would increase the mill rate—the tax levied per $1,000 of assessed value—20 percent from 25.31 to 30.28. The new budget increases the mill rate an estimated 8.33 percent, or up 2.11 mills to 27.42.

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The next matter on the budget will be a public hearing, which will place at 6 p.m. on May 7 at the .

Difficult decisions

The Finance Committee met prior to the City Council to discuss further action on the budget, which had been reduced to $43,117,892 on the city side. However, $200,000 had to be reinstated to the fringe benefits account after it was determined that the anticipated savings were already counted in the t budget. Finance Director Jeff Smith also calculated that the anticipated $650,000 increase in revenue would have to be reduced to $410,000.

Among the largest decreases requested are $760,000 from the , $677,467 from the , $658,000 from the police department, and $423,366 from debt services.

Councilor Adam Sprecace said he thinks that moving forward, the council needs to determine what the size of New London’s government should be.

“I’m not one to agree that the cost of government should constantly increase and taxes should constantly increase,” he said.

Council President Michael Passero, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said the city can only afford so much and needs to focus on expanding its economic base.

“It just does not benefit us to live beyond our means,” he said.

Prior to the budget going to the full council, the committee unanimously approved increasing anticipated revenues to $452,000 on funds Sprecace said he found in one grant, while fringe benefits were again reduced by $200,000 due to a change in workers’ compensation estimates.

Finizio suggested that the council could work toward revision of fire department practices by negotiations with the firefighters’ union on staffing levels and other issues. He said the city could save a net $900,000 by decreasing the fire department’s budget by $1.5 million and increasing debt service and pension funds by $350,000 and $250,000, respectively.

The proposal as initially presented to the council would have resulted in a $43,177,892 budget and a mill rate of 9.73 percent. Councilor John Maynard said he considered that increase unacceptable.

“What we need to start looking at is cuts for positions,” he said. “No matter how hard it is to say, I’ll be the first to say it.”

Maynard suggested cutting one position each in the and mayor’s office and reducing the appropriation for the . Maynard’s amendment to make the first of these cuts failed 1-2, as Passero and Sprecace said the issue could be explored at a later date since the council was required to vote on the appropriation ordinances prior to midnight.

Public reaction

Several people spoke before the council to urge councilors to preserve funds for certain departments. Jessica Cartagena and several people involved in presented councilors with 354 signatures supporting funding for the department.

Penny Parsekian, chief executive officer of , said the organization has been an inexpensive option in motivating downtown activity and revitalization.

“It’s more important than ever that the city needs to be careful about its funding and where it spends money,” said Parsekian.

Susan Donvan said the city could ask tax-exempt entities, such as the colleges and , to begin contributing to the city’s tax rolls. She was also critical of past City Council budget decisions, saying investment in the city’s infrastructure and equipment has long been deferred in an effort to stem tax increases.

“'You get what you pay for' is an expression that comes to mind,” she said.

Frank Lansing, who owns a house on Pequot Ave., characterized the requested budget increase as a “Fi-Nazi-o tax.” Lansing said he pays half of his fixed income toward state and local taxes.

“I would like to tell the mayor to shove his 20 percent tax,” he said. “I’m tapped out.”

Councilors responded that the funding for the and New London Youth Affairs is on par with the funding in the current fiscal year, but does not include one-time funding added .

“It looks to be one of the few that has not been substantially reduced,” Sprecace said of the Recreation Department.

Council trimming

While the committee had set itself a goal of limiting the tax increase to two percent over the current fiscal year, Councilor Don Macrino said this would require an additional $2.9 million in cuts, while limiting it to a three percent increase would require slashing $2.5 million.

“I’ve twisted and turned every way I can, but we’re at the end of the road,” he said.

Sprecace said that while some departments have fixed costs, 16 could be reduced further. He motioned to reduce these departments by an additional two percent across the board, noting that these cuts would include nearly $1 million from the police department, $750,000 from Public Works, $50,000 from the library, and $38,000 from the Recreation Department. Sprecace said he also felt this could reduce the chance of the budget being challenged in a referendum vote.

Passero said that the $711,640 would not quite bring the tax increase down to the 7.76 percent originally anticipated by the committee prior to the inclusion of additional revenue shortfalls.

“It’s going to be difficult on both sides, on the taxpayers and on the administration of the city,” said Passero. “But it may be the compromise we’re looking at.”

Council President Pro Tempore Wade Hyslop opposed the measure, saying he believed the additional cuts would impact the level of municipal services. He said he also did not consider that reducing the budget further would quell anyone who is already angered by an anticipated tax increase.

“I don’t think this budget can go any lower than we’ve already gone,” he said.

Deputy police chief and K-9 program

Following the vote, Finizio noted how several councilors had advocated having department heads allocate funds within their departments once the figures are finalized. He said this went against the Finance Committee’s earlier vote to as part of reductions made to the police department.

The committee voted to eliminate the position one day after Finizio announced that he had , a 22-year veteran of the New Haven Police Department, for the job.

Hyslop motioned to restore the deputy chief’s position to the police budget. Passero amended it to allow Police Chief Margaret Ackley to determine the responsible allocation of funds approved for the department.

Sprecace said this proposal concerned him, since it could allow Ackley to eliminate the department’s K-9 program. Finizio said he had taken the into consideration and will support retaining it if Ackley decides to fund the deputy chief’s position.

“I will make the commitment on behalf of the city and the police department that the K-9 program will not be part of those reductions,” he said.

Passero’s amendment passed 5-2.

Breakdown of Finance Committee, City Council votes

The following motions and amendments were made at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting:

  • Sprecace moves to appropriate $11,799,838 to the police department budget, an increase of $177,187; motion fails due to lack of a second.
  • Sprecace moves to reduce the decrease to the budget from $150,000 to $85,000; motion fails due to lack of a second.
  • Sprecace moves adding $42,000 to additional revenue to bring the figure to $452,000; motion passes unanimously.
  • Sprecace moves to remove $200,000 from the fringe benefits budget; motion passes unanimously.
  • Maynard proposes an amendment to eliminate a position from the Personnel Department; motion fails 1-2, with Maynard in favor and Passero and Sprecace against.

The following motions and amendments were made at Monday’s City Council meeting:

  • Hyslop moves to pass a $43,177,892 city budget; motion fails due to lack of a second.
  • Sprecace proposes an amendment to cut an additional two percent from the budgets for elections, the police department, Public Works, the fire department, the library, the Office of Development and Planning, the mayor’s office, Personnel, Law, City Council, , parking, Recreation, Youth Affairs, and the ; motion passes 5-2 with Councilors Marie Friess-McSparran, Macrino, Maynard, Passero, and Sprecace in favor and Hyslop and Councilor Anthony Nolan opposed.
  • Main motion on the $42,466,252 city budget passes along the same lines
  • Council unanimously passes a $40,626,405 school budget.
  • Hyslop moves to restore the deputy police chief's position. Passero amends to have Ackley determine the responsible allocation of police department funds; Passero's amendment and motion pass 5-2, each with Hyslop, Macrino, Nolan, Passero, and Sprecace in favor and Friess-McSparran and Maynard opposed.
  • Vote to approve the appropriations ordinance passes 5-2 with Friess-McSparran, Macrino, Maynard, Passero, and Sprecace in favor and Hyslop and Nolan opposed.

 

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Thomas Cornick May 02, 2012 at 05:38 PM
According to the contract their work week is 35 hours. This makes the compensation rate $40 an hour plus benefits. My perception is that to preserve administrative positions they will continue to neglect infrastructure.
Sue P. May 02, 2012 at 10:54 PM
I just remembered another part of the meeting where the councilors were asking the finance director how much does the city pay for contributions to employees 401K's. The answer was from 9.5 to 15 I think percent. I'm not a numbers person but to me that is outrages. Could someone please find out if this is true because that would be one big savings if we could get it down to about 6%.
Susan Donovan May 03, 2012 at 12:19 AM
If that IS true, I agree...that IS outrageous!! My employer will match 4%, and in THIS day and age....that's not bad! I'm having a tough enough time planning for my OWN retirement (which is pretty non-existent at this point). I don't want MY taxes increased so that city employees can keep THEIR cushy retirements! Especially, I might add...those who will already be collecting nice big fat pensions from the state. In addition to that, I DID receive report back that CT College pays a "small amount" and both Mitchell College and L&M Hospital pay NOTHING in PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) to the City of New London. This, I believe, has to change.
Thomas Cornick May 03, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Unless we hold the council and the mayor accountable contracts that allow for compensation out of line with comparable private employment will continue, it amounts to little more than buying political support by giving away your money and provides a negative benefit to the taxpayer. Public works contracts come up in 2014.
Carol D. Fox May 03, 2012 at 04:22 PM
@Sue: 6% is also too high. How about 3%-4%. And yes, 9%-15% is outrageous. I really think the Mayor needs to get rid of at least 1 person in his entourage. i still can't figure out what each of them does all day. I seem to think I read that the City is self-insured for medical issues. That could be rather expensive for major illnesses. Maybe they should contract with Anthem or another insurance company for full coverage and have their employers pay for a good portion of their own insurance like other companies do instead of paying for medical issues out of the City's coffers.

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