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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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Megan Ward May 01, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Neither have you, and you've apparently been a homeowner in NL for decades. I just thought you'd already have ideas. Guess not.
Sue P. May 01, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Megan this is something I posted before and it appears to be way over $300,000 dollars.Just a few reminders of the spending by the Mayor that was not authorized and not in the budget approved by the last council: Hired a Department head for Office of Planning & Development at over $100,000 including benefits Hired a Secretary at $60,000 and then increased her salary a few weeks later by $10,000 to $70,000 Hired two additional employees to the Office of Mayor then was approved Renovated City Hall and bought new furniture Told the City Clerk and Assistant City Clerk they no longer would be employed. He paid the City Clerk over $32,000 to leave then hired back the Assistant for several months at over $10,000 cost to the city Allowed the former City Manager Denise Rose to be paid over $45,000 in compensatory and vacation time even though her contract did not provide for these benefits. She only worked for this city for 11 months Deputy Fire Chief Position was not in this year budget at $100,000 including benefits Increased the finance director salary from $96,000 to over $126,000. He has only been here for 10 months Settlements for three police administrators that were performing their jobs at cost of over $500,000 These are just a few examples ..
Sue P. May 01, 2012 at 07:18 PM
I'm am not saying it is the Mayors fault but he did contribute a lot.
Megan Ward May 01, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Thank you Sue, for not saying that. In my comment I was specifically referring to the salaries of the mayor and staff, since NL doesn't have a time machine. Although it may be hiding in the hills of Riverside Park.
Wayne Vendetto May 01, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Megan I just did. It becomes more clear by the post, that you have problems with comprehension. Sue, save your fingertips on this one, she cant contribute anything but sarcasm
Kathleen Mitchell May 01, 2012 at 07:38 PM
What "...we were duped into thinking..." was that things were much worse than they were by our esteemed mayor in hopes of convincing people such as yourself that we had no choice but to sell Riverside Park. It turns out that we are not 15 million in the hole and the suggested 20% increase by his honor was way out of line and nothing more than a scare tactic. But setting one segment of our society against another in an attempt to achieve one's goals is a time-honored tradition used, unfortunately, by other politicians.
NewLondonSource May 01, 2012 at 07:39 PM
@Stephanie: Thankfully, people like you weren't around or in power when we decided we had had enough of British rule.
Kathleen Mitchell May 01, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Debbie, It is not only in the Education Department that a great deal of money goes toward administration costs. Try the mayor's office where Tammy Daugherty, an assistant to the mayor and an entry level position, makes more than the Director of the New London Library with Zak Levy, another mayoral assistant, not that far behind. That doesn't take into account Jane Glover's salary nor, of course, the mayor himself. How many people does it take to row this sinking boat?
Sue P. May 01, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Wayne, I agree I'm done.
Dirk Langeveld May 01, 2012 at 07:45 PM
I like that some of the discussion here has been about possible savings, and I'd like to see that continue; I'm sure it's what the councilors are thinking about now, and I'm sure people have proposals that could work. I know some department heads read the site as well, so if you contribute on how the proposed additional cuts would affect your department that would be excellent.
Kathleen Mitchell May 01, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Stephanie, Just because there are an increasing number of people who disagree with the mayor, it doesn't necessarily follow that they don't like him or that they are insane. Your remarks are insulting.
NewLondonSource May 01, 2012 at 07:50 PM
"To cut staff, at this point, would be a disservice to all residents except the ones who want to thumb their nose at the administration because, I don't know why." We thumb our nose because of the myriad of inane, misguided and oft-times ridiculous & hypocritical decisions this Mayor has made. From pissing off the Coast Guard (and getting snapped by Hartford and Washington reps in the process), to ridiculous proclamations and 'executive' orders, to his illegal severence packages and backdoor deals, this mayor has been a disservice to all New Londoners who actually care about transparency and progress. True, although he contributed, he didn't create most of the fiscal problem we have. However, it is also true that he hasn't made any contribution to moving us in a positive direction, both fiscally and socially.
NewLondonSource May 01, 2012 at 07:54 PM
We could save a lot of money, both now and in the future, by NOT combining the BoE and City Finance departments - just ask Jeff Smith, he said it himself.
Kathleen Mitchell May 01, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Dirk, Unfortunately,I was unable to attend last night's meeting since the Yankee's were playing the Orioles at the same time. However, I made the supreme sacrifice of missing the first 4 innings in order to watch Public Comment and was most distressed to see that your and Kathleen's seats were taken by His Honor and Jeff Smith which left you, at least, to wander around like a man without a country or, in your case, without a seat. I remember the mayor defending his office redecorations by reminding people that he even had to bring a chair from his own home. I'm suggesting that he find another one and stop taking yours. It might not save money but it would be a nice thing to do.
Sue P. May 01, 2012 at 08:48 PM
For all of you that keep thinking that the Coast Guard wants to still buy Riverside have not been keeping up with the news. The Coast Guard had to make major cuts and can not afford any projects at this time. They had to lay off 1000 people. The people of New London really have to work together on this. I personally think that some of the jobs don't have to be cut but the salaries do. A secretary for $70,000 a year plus benefits is really ridiculous. I wonder how much the Presidents secretary gets.
Ken May 01, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Let's consider Michael Passero's statement, the city "...needs to focus on expanding its economic base." Riverside can be either an 'albatross' or an asset that increases the value of the surrounding residences and businesses. The city has made it clear that it held the former view for the past few decades. Now is the time to set a 10-year goal for raising the property values in East NL. That is to say, honest valuations that are reflected in the market place. Riverside, Hodges Square and the Winthrop Magnet School are important cornerstones of that goal. In addition, the relationships between East NL and the nearby college campuses must factor into that goal. Riverside can be the key to achieving that goal. So, I agree with Wayne and Kathleen.
Kathleen Mitchell May 01, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Ken, I know you don't miss much especially when it comes to the value, aesthetically and otherwise, of parks. But, just in case, here is a new study from The Trust for Public Land "Measuring the Economic Value of a City Park System" http://www.tpl.org/publications/books-reports/ccpe-publications/measuring-the-economic-value.html It is most unfortunate that too many people don't realize or understand the impact that open space, recreational opportunities and parks have in attracting people and businesses, and, therefore, money to a community.
Kathleen Mitchell May 01, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Sue, "...at this time..." doesn't mean next year or after Opsail.
Kathleen Mitchell May 01, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Damn, Sue! Interesting question about how much President Obama's secretary makes. According to ABC news, she makes $95,000. and, even though math is not my strong suit, that's only $15,000. more than what Tammy makes. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/04/president-obamas-secretary-paid-higher-tax-rate-than-he-did/
NewLondonSource May 01, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Kathleen - Tammy makes $70k, or $25k less than someone who supports a public figure that is only slightly more busy than the Fiz.
Thomas Cornick May 01, 2012 at 09:20 PM
40 hour work week x 50 weeks a year, if they ever work a 40 hour week means a nice wage of 35$ an hour plus benefits. Nice work if you can get it.
lion king May 01, 2012 at 10:11 PM
megan ward, whats next ,have the fire dept hand out how to fight a fire video and let homeowners put out there own fires ,the mayor should leave the fire dept alone and worry about the police dept thats in my opinion in rough shape .................................
Susan Donovan May 02, 2012 at 12:01 AM
I am in no way suggesting that the entire city is not emotional over tax increases during tough times, sadness over the appearance of our distressed city, and worried about how very significant budget cuts are going to affect the things we have come to take for granted (ie snow & trash removal, programs for our children and our community) - but - from where I sat in council chambers last night, the "breaking down in tears" appeared a bit different than what you've suggested several times in your posts Sue. The first speaker was indeed emotional, thinking that programs for her children were being cut, which they were not. The second "tearful" speaker was announcing she had just escaped from some sort of domestic violence and was CLEARLY in need of assistance that couldn't be provided at a city council meeting. I believe the last speaker of the night also became teary during her announcment of school children doing a fundraiser for the Lymphoma Society. I'm not positive, but I assume someone close to her is affected by the disease. Again, I certainly agree that the mere mention of tax increases and/or budget cuts creates a lot of emotion in all involved. I was actually quite surprised that there weren't MORE people at the meeting taking the opportunity to voice their opinions.
Sue P. May 02, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Susan Donovan, You always seem to jump to conclusions. I happened to agree with most of what you said last night. I didn't agree with Megans thought process of people that live in the south end are all rich and can afford, as she put it a extra few bucks a day. You and I both know that people on the south side are struggling too. Your ideas with the pensions and benefits was fantastic. Please continue reading the rest of Megans comments and see if you agree with what she has to say.
Susan Donovan May 02, 2012 at 12:27 AM
I too Dirk, would like more discussion on possible (perhaps creative) ways to save, rather than simply making "cross the board cuts" to departments that have had huge cuts already. As I said at last night's meeting, I REALLY want to know what PILOT payments (payments in lieu of taxes) our city's largest non-profits make to our city, especially L&M Hospital. Seeing as L&M Hospital is the most finacially secure hospital in the entire state of CT (even considering taking over Westerly Hospital), could they/would they be willing to pay more due to the financial crisis of the city it "lives in"? What about the colleges? Mitchell College owns a LOT of "prime waterfront property" in New London. How much does it contribute? Read up on Providence, which was facing bankruptcy, and how it went after Brown University to pay its fair share.
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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