The City Council voted 6-1 to approve a third and final reading of a $42,466,252 municipal budget on Tuesday, with several modifications aimed at preventing layoffs in the and .
The bottom line of the budget remains unchanged since the , while the mill rate increase dropped slightly to 1.91, bringing the mill rate to 27.22. However, the council’s actions included cuts in several areas—including salary eliminations or reductions in some positions appointed by Mayor Daryl Finizio—with those funds transferred to the fire and police departments to avert the .
Finizio previously said that Fire Chief Ron Samul informed him he would have to cut 25 firefighters and leave five positions vacant as a result of budget cuts. Finizio also said Police Chief Margaret Ackley told him she would have to fire 10 police officers and leave 11 positions vacant to meet her budget. She sent an e-mail to Finance Director Jeff Smith during the discussions to say that she would be able to find sufficient funds in the overtime account to prevent the layoffs.
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Several city councilors directed critical remarks at Finizio, who was absent due to illness, accusing him of using dishonest tactics to try to influence the council’s decisions on the budget.
Councilor John Maynard introduced a series of multi-part motions with the intent of reducing funds in several areas to make monies available for the fire and police departments. In the first motion, the council voted 5-1 to eliminate $130,000 budgeted for the deputy police chief’s position. Finizio to the position last month, and the Finance Committee approved a . However, the council later agreed to allow Ackley to determine where cuts in the department should be made.
Maynard’s next motion sought to eliminate funding or reduce salaries in areas outside the public safety departments. The joint motion called for:
- The elimination of the $115,000 budgeted for the director of the
- The elimination of $95,000 budgeted for Finizio’s office administrator
- The elimination of $74,000 budgeted for the risk manager’s salary
- The elimination of $54,000 budgeted for the assistant city clerk’s salary
- A reduction in the salary of Finizio’s chief administrative officer to $60,000
- A reduction in the salary of Finizio’s executive assistant to $40,000
- A reduction in the finance director’s salary to $100,000
The council approved the motion 5-2. Maynard also advocated reducing Ackley’s salary by $22,000 and Samul’s by $5,000, bringing each to $95,000. The motion failed in a 2-3 vote.
“This is no way to run a government”
Council President Michael Passero delivered several criticisms of Finizio, saying he considers that it is “not an honorable administration” and that the mayor has shown disrespect for the council and charter. Smith angered Passero when he announced, partway through the discussion over whether to eliminate funds for the deputy police chief, that Ackley had just e-mailed him saying she believed there is enough money available in the police department’s overtime fund to avoid layoffs.
“When’s the next text message coming from the next department head?...This is no way to run a government,” Passero said.
Passero also said he considers that the administration has been changing the budget numbers at each meeting, making it more difficult for the council to determine an appropriate budget for the departments. He said he thought the council and administration had reached an agreement for an appropriate budget until the announcement of potential layoffs in the fire and police departments.
“I can’t get to the truth of what’s going on in that administration or that Finance Department,” said Passero. “I cannot get to the truth. But the City Council sets the priorities in the city of New London because we control the purse strings.”
Maynard was also upset at the announcement regarding potential public safety layoffs.
“The mayor said the police and fire departments could be funded under these budgets,” he said. “Well, surprise, he lied again.”
Councilor Adam Sprecace said pertinent information on some topics not been provided until the discussion takes place.
“This is the frustrating part. The numbers that the council relies upon to make decisions, and on the third reading we find out they’re inaccurate,” Sprecace said during a discussion on the fire department budget.
Passero said he considered that there is enough money in both the fire and police departments to fund them for the 2013 fiscal year without firing any employees, and that as a result Maynard’s reductions would go toward reducing the bottom line. Maynard replied that he hoped to avoid all layoffs but that he considered his proposed cuts a way of finding money for the public safety departments.
“It gave me no pleasure in the decisions I came up with here tonight,” said Maynard.
The majority of the savings in the fire department budget comes from a 4-1 decision to reduce other expenditures for the fire department, chiefly by removing $388,000 from the overtime budget. Sprecace said the amount budgeted for overtime is at this level above the expenditures estimated for the current fiscal year.
The $40,626,405 budget for the passed 5-2 without discussion. Councilor Anthony Nolan proposed cutting the school business office funds transferred to the per the , saying savings from the consolidation of this department would not be realized in this year.
“My concern is we’re spending money on something that’s not immediate, and we can put it on something that’s more immediate,” said Nolan.
Passero said rejecting the funds transfer would be “unconscionable” since the district will have to fire more staff if it has to absorb the business office funds. The proposal failed 1-6.
The council voted 5-2 to reduce funding to by $70,000, with the caveat that the council may decide to restore it by special appropriation if need be later in the year.
The final vote was greeted with a round of applause by several firefighters who . Maynard, Nolan, Passero, Sprecace, and Councilors Marie Friess-McSparran and Donald Macrino were in favor of the proposed budget while President Pro-Tempore Wade Hyslop was opposed.
The council also voted 6-1, with Nolan opposed, to set the mill rate at 27.22 following votes to adjust some revenues.
Past and future actions in the 2013 budget
Finizio’s initial budget proposal on April 1 called for an , with $41,011,927 appropriated to the schools and $46,100,021 appropriated to municipal services. This budget would have increased the mill rate—the tax levied per $1,000 of assessed value—by about 20 percent, from 25.31 to 30.28. Finizio, who announced earlier this year that the city was , said the budget would be necessary to maintain all current services and avoid depleting the general fund.
On April 30, the City Council voted 5-2 to trim the budget to $83,092,657, representing a $42,466,252 municipal budget and $40,626,405 school budget. This budget increased the mill rate by 2.11 mills to 27.42, an 8.33 percent increase. The budget on May 21 in a 4-3 vote.
The budget now goes to Finizio, who may sign it, veto it, or veto certain line items within 10 days of receiving it. The council may overturn a veto by a majority vote of six councilors. The budget may also be challenged at referendum.
Clarification: the articile initially said that the mill rate dropped slightly. The mill rate will still increase under this budget, but is 20 cents lower than the increase proposed in the first reading of the budget.