Mayor Daryl Finizio held the first of 14 planned public hearings on the 2013 fiscal year municipal budget on Thursday, discussing the budget process and reductions that might be made if the budget is defeated at a referendum vote.
Finizio said significant cuts have been made from his and that 91 percent of the increase would cover lost revenues or past overestimates, with the remaining nine percent representing mandated expenditures toward debt service.
“The cuts that you’ve been seeing are not cuts that are trying to lower the existing tax rate,” said Finizio. “They are cuts to meet this tax rate.”
Following a lengthy budget process, the City Council approved a for the 2013 fiscal year in a June 19 vote. The council also approved a 7.5 percent increase to the mill rate, or tax per $1,000 of assessed value, raising it from 25.31 to 27.22. A total of 19 municipal positions were cut in this budget
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A petition effort gathered enough signatures to . Residents will decide whether the measures should stand in a .
Five percent reduction
Finizio presented reductions that could be made if the budget is defeated at referendum and one is prepared bringing the mill rate to 26.58, or a 2.5 percent increase. The City Council was aiming for a two percent tax increase during budget deliberations.
Finizio said the following reductions in services could occur under the proposal:
- Having residential trash and recycling pickup occur every other week instead of every week, reducing mechanical services for emergency vehicles, and eliminating the building division in the
- Suspending upgrades, having no on-call technicians, and leaving a senior analyst position vacant in Information Technology
- Suspending grant writing requests and potentially cutting the department head and building officials in the
- Eliminating a records technician and reducing office hours at the
Finizio said the city would also have to prioritize its needs, and that he considered on-call IT technicians to be necessary. He said if this service is not available, computer issues—including those in public safety systems—could only be addressed during business hours.
“If we have to choose between police IT…versus cutting the subsidy to the library, we may cut the subsidy to the library,” said Finizio.
Finizio said the city could also consider reductions to the , , and . He said any cuts would be made in consultation with the City Council if the proposed budget is defeated at referendum.
Budget as proposed
Finizio said there was a “tremendous amount of disorganization in how the city’s finances were being run” when he took office. He said these included underfunded budgets, frequent transfers from account to account, reduced revenues from the state, and a decreased general fund.
“We were doing more with stagnant tax streams and a depleting fund balance,” said Finizio.
Cost savings measures put into place as part of the budget process included:
- Department of Public Works: , elimination of seasonal employees, a , reduced hours at the transfer station, and scaled-back curbside pickups.
- Mayor’s office: reduction of salaries, including bringing the office manager’s wage from $70,000 to $52,000; and consolidation with the duties with the chief administrative officer with no additional compensation; and elimination of expense accounts. Finizio said the office’s budget is $57,000 less than the last city manager’s annual budget.
- Elimination of two positions in Information Technology and foregoing replacement of aging servers.
- Salary and staff reductions and the elimination of the NIP-IT code enforcement team in the Office of Development and Planning.
Finizio said the Finance Department has added a PDF document to the city website on Thursday (see attached) updating department by department budget information, and that more information will be added soon. He said he calculated that the proposed tax increase will cost the average homeowner between 69 cents and $1.05 a day, and that cutting it five percent will save between 22 cents and 36 cents per day, respectively.
“I believe that approving this budget stabilizes us, but no, it is not the end,” said Finizio. “Even in this year we may have to make additional cuts as the budget goes along to make sure we don’t run a deficit.”
Larry Hample said his assessment has increased 750 percent in the time he has owned the property in the city. He said he considered the assessments in New London to be unfair as a whole.
“When will people in town understand that? We don’t have any more money to give,” said Hample.
Finizio said New London assessments are less than comparable properties in neighboring towns. He said he believes the property tax system is outdated and that he would prefer that it be based on ability to pay.
“The city of New London can’t change the property tax system…It’s an unfair tax. Everybody has my sympathy on that,” he said.
Dr. George Sprecace, a former member of the City Council and Board of Education, said he would be willing to support the proposed budget on one condition: that the city conduct a forensic audit to analyze any fiduciary negligence or malfeasance in the past five years.
“I do think we have to make sure that we are starting from the right origin, otherwise it’s garbage in, garbage out,” said Sprecace.
Finizio replied that he would support a forensic audit, but that he has not pushed for one because he thinks the has identified where the main issues are and the city is able to focus on solutions for the future. He said the City Council would need to appropriate the funds for such an audit.
“If the council passes it, I will not stand in the way,” said Finizio.
The council has considered a forensic audit but not approved the measure. Finance Director Jeff Smith opposed such an audit, saying it would cost an estimated $2 million and focus on uncovering malfeasance. He said regular audits have identified a pattern of budgeting he described as “foolish but not criminal.”
Frank McLaughlin said the city should look toward consolidation and regionalization to improve the efficiency of spending in the city. He said an provided one example of cost-saving initiatives.
“I think there are opportunities in government for reorganization,” he said.
The next budget forum will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at .