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New London Budget Referendum Puts Services, Salaries In Spotlight [POLL]

Opponents and foes of $42.3 million municipal budget discuss motivating factors as Sept. 18 vote approaches

From political officials to residents, supporters and opponents of a proposed $42.3 million municipal budget and increased tax rate are hoping to persuade voters as a approaches on Tuesday.

Supporters say that the budget corrects revenue shortfalls and reflects the expenditures needed to maintain several municipal services. Opponents say the city has not been held accountable for fiscal responsibility and that this needs to occur before residents are asked to contribute more to local taxes.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. District 1 residents will vote at the while District 2 and District 3 residents will vote at the and , respectively.

New London’s included a $42 million municipal budget and mill rate, or tax per $1,000 of assessed value, of 25.31. The tax rate is 27.22, an increase of 7.5 percent. Funding for 19 municipal positions - including nine positions in the , six positions in the , and two information technology positions - was cut under the budget while Chief Administrative Officer Jane Glover assumed the duties of the personnel coordinator after .

Referendum process

Due to a lengthy budget process, the first tax bills to go out were based on the 2012 mill rate rather than the increased rate. Mayor Daryl Finizio said that if the budget and tax rate are approved, the increase will either be applied to the January bill or collected in a smaller supplemental bill in the spring.

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Finizio said that if the budget is rejected, the budget process will start from the initial point where the mayor proposes a budget. He said the City Council will decide whether to take an up or down vote on a new budget or go through the more in-depth process of having department heads discuss their budgets before the Finance Committee. A new budget would also go before a public hearing and could be turned down by a mayoral veto or line item veto. A new budget could be challenged in another referendum vote.

Council President Michael Passero, who also chairs the Finance Committee, said he does not believe that Finizio needs to prepare a new budget but said the council would look to the mayor for input if the budget is rejected.

“It’s my expectation, if this budget is rejected, that this council will go down to at least the five percent tax level,” said Passero.

Reducing the budget to a five percent tax increase has been considered by both supporters and opponents. Finizio has held a number of on the budget to discuss the budget and cuts he feels would be necessary under a five percent tax increase. Bill Vogel, chairman of the Republican Town Committee, said Tuesday that he thought should be approved.

Support

In forum discussions, Finizio has said that $1,265,000 would have to be cut to . He said expenditures in the approved budget are lower than actual spending in the 2012 budget, and that 91 percent of the budget increases covers lost revenues while the remaining nine percent involves mandated expenditures toward debt service.

“We’re obviously hopeful that the voters will see that this is a very lean budget,” said Finizio. “Spending has been cut in virtually every city department.”

Finizio said he considers that there are few places to save money in the budget and that any cuts would have to come from services considered to be non-essential. He said these could include closing the , laying off employees, cutting $200,000 from the city’s contribution to the , suspending technical upgrades, and reducing the budgets of the and .

“This is a precarious situation for the city,” said Finizio. I’m not trying to be alarmist. I’m not trying to scare people or put people in a panic. But at the same time, we have to recognize that the .”

Finizio said he has intended to show what cuts would be necessary with a five percent tax increase at the forums, but would not propose an immediate reduction to this level if the budget is rejected. He said he would suggest a smaller reduction for resubmission to the City Council.

Some members of the City Council also said they consider that they have reduced the budget as far as possible without cutting into essential services. Councilor Don Macrino said the administration and department heads will be responsible for staying within their approved budgets. He said there could be significant cuts to services if the budget is returned to the council.

“I would hate to see tax increases like everybody else would, but as far as I’m concerned it’s necessary to maintain even the most basic of the services we now offer,” said Macrino.

Passero said the council passed the budget with the expectation of preserving municipal services and that further cuts will impact these.

“I believe Council worked earnestly, cutting a proposal from a to where we got it,” he said.

However, Passero also criticized the debate between supporters and opponents of the referendum questions, saying there have been major misrepresentations of the budget situation.

“I am seriously disappointed with the level of dishonesty on both sides on this referendum,” said Passero.

Opposition

Councilor Adam Sprecace, who voted in favor of the budget and tax increase, has since changed his opinion and favors overturning the measures at referendum. Sprecace said he believed the tax increase was necessary to maintain services at the time of the vote.

However, he said he has not received sufficient information since the vote on the details of financial matters such as enterprise funds and the salaries and pensions for each municipal employee. Sprecace said that without the information, the council is unable to prove that the budget and tax increase are necessary to maintain services or provide checks and balances in city finances.

“We don’t have the information necessary to do our job for the rest of the year,” he said.

Sprecace said that if the budget is returned to the council, his proposals for cuts would be based on the split in the decision. He said he that if a high percentage of voters reject the budget he would see it as an indicator of the electorate’s support of smaller government, while a close vote would suggest a need for smaller cuts.

Other opponents have targeted New London’s overtime expenditures as well as municipal salaries. Vogel suggested at Tuesday’s RTC meeting that Finizio should look at both areas for reduction if the budget is rejected. Councilors Marie Friess-McSparran and John Maynard, who opposed the budget, agreed.

“Our salaries are too high for a city this size,” said Friess-McSparran.

Maynard said he agreed with Finizio’s order to in an effort to keep departments within their allocated budgets, but believed that there are still areas to cut. He said he would also support a forensic audit to further examine the city’s finances.

“Although we did gruelingly go through it, I think there’s an opportunity with overtime to save money,” he said.

Budget history

The 2013 fiscal year budget has been an issue in New London since January. The following are some of the events that have occurred in the budget process:

  • Jan. 27: Finizio announces an over three years due to anticipated deficits in the 2011 and 2012 budgets and the possibility of replenishing general fund in 2013
  • April 2: Finizio proposes an , saying it would be necessary to maintain current municipal services and increase the school budget by three percent. This proposal would involve a 20 percent tax increase to 30.28 mills.
  • April 30: Following several Finance Committee hearings, the City Council approves an with a mill rate of 27.42 in a 5-2 vote at its first reading
  • May 17: Finizio announces that several will be necessary in order for the departments to make their approved budgets
  • May 21: City Council again approves $83.1 million budget and 27.42 mill rate at in a 4-3 vote
  • May 29: City Council makes several budget transfers to police and fire budgets in ; approves $83.1 million budget with 27.22 mill rate in a 6-1 vote
  • June 13: Finizio and announces tentative agreements with police and fire unions
  • June 19: City Council but restores funding cut to several administrative positions at third reading; budget, which passes 5-2, remains at $83.1 million with a 27.22 mill rate
  • July 1: 2013 fiscal year begins
  • July 2: The possibility of fire department layoffs returns after a City Council decision on approval of fire union agreement ; the school budget after Dr. Steven Adamowski, a state-appointed special master assigned to the , halts an anticipated increase in state funds and a plan to have the Finance Department assume business office costs
  • July 9: City clerk to challenge the $42.3 million municipal budget and tax rate at referendum
  • Aug. 2: City Council votes 4-2 after a cap is placed on city contributions toward pensions; layoffs rescinded
  • Aug. 23: Board of Education votes 5-2 to approve a
  • Aug. 28: Democratic Town Committee
  • Sept. 4: Finance Director Jeff Smith says preliminary figures show the after overspending and revenue shortfalls in the 2012 fiscal year
  • Sept. 10: New London Green Party announces that it has
  • Sept. 11: Republican Town Committee and requests a forensic audit of the city's finances over the past five years

Nearby communities

Communities in the region passed a wide variety of budgets and tax rates for the 2013 fiscal year. Stonington held a referendum after voters narrowly rejected a $57 million budget for municipal services and schools and approved a $56.7 million budget after $300,000 was cut from the school budget. The tax rate was increased 1.6 percent, going from 15.63 to 15.89.

Groton approved a $120.9 million budget. This included a seven percent tax increase from 18.89 to 20.22.

Waterford’s approved budget was $78.8 million. This involved a 5.4 tax increase from 18.79 to 19.77.

Ledyard’s tax rate remains level at 27.93. The community approved a $49.1 million budget.

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ralph cramden September 13, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Read below from the new crony of the mayor. Passero has flip-flopped to the other side. After he was bought and paid for with a sweetened pension he has abandoned the taxpayers that will be paying for it. The title Mr. Integrity no longer applies to Mr. Passero. How effective and fiscally responsible can a councilor be to the people he represents when by virtue of his employee contract with the city he has to support the budget and oppose the refrendum. Mr. Passero amd Mr. Nolan must resign now from their union positions or from the council. The conflict is bad for the city. However, Passero also criticized the debate between supporters and opponents of the referendum questions, saying there have been major misrepresentations of the budget situation. “I am seriously disappointed with the level of dishonesty on both sides on this referendum,” said Passero.
Bob Stuller September 13, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Ralph (if that is your real name), I generally agree with your sentiment. I believe that city-government employees should not be serving in the Executive branch of our government as that would put them in the position of being their boss's boss. Even more so, however, I feel that government is no place for union workers –as opposed to rank-and-file union members– but I am unclear: Are you saying that these two Councilors members hold positions in their respective unions?
lion king September 13, 2012 at 02:24 PM
miss hendersen, are we all to believe that because a person is stabbed, and killed its the fault of the police chief and mayor ,a family lost a dear loved one last night and for you and others to use it on this blog to try to make a dumb point is as low as i believe a person can go ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
Carol D. Fox September 13, 2012 at 02:27 PM
citygirl: Get a brain. He did not deplete the budget in the last seven months. The last two years have depleted the reserve. I'm still undecided what to vote, but will give great thought to it over the weekend. Im just afraid if I vote yes, the Special Master to the Board will force us to pay more taxes which I, among many others, cannot afford. If I vote no, I'm afraid the Senior Center and the much needed programs for children will be shuttered.
RICHARD WASELIK September 13, 2012 at 02:42 PM
First, neither councilor holds a position in their unions. Second stop blaming union members for the failures of others. New London employees are the lowest paid and do the work of two too three. Too keep using the employees as a scapegoat and to say lower their salaries is not only a way to make an argument without having a real argument, but also telling the city to break the law. Way to go, try and have more law suits on your hand. This is part of why the city has the current problems they have.
ralph cramden September 13, 2012 at 02:43 PM
The issues is that as union members they are bound by terms negotiated by Mayor Finizio to support the budget as it is and not speak out against it. Basically these two councilors cannot answer questions honestly to the public that elected them about the budget. How can we have elected officials tasked with upholding the best interest of the public and then have the mayor do a contract amendment that requires that the councilors support the mayor's position no matter what. Worse than that the council as a whole sanctioned this contract amendment and the union leaders negotiated away their members rights to freedom of speech. In America this is just a slap in the face to all that fought for the right of freedom of speech. This is wrong on so many levels. And just another reason to VOTE NO
ralph cramden September 13, 2012 at 02:47 PM
You have misread Richard, the unions bargained away teh rights of these two people to speak their mind about the budget. They are bound by their respective union contracts to support the budget and not speak out against it. Who is blaming union members for this? The mayor and the union presidents negotiated this stuff. Please Richard open your eyes. You can speak your mind so far. Your union has not negotiated that away for you ....YET
RICHARD WASELIK September 13, 2012 at 02:47 PM
People, stop saying vote no too stick it to the mayor. You are hurting yourself and not him. This is not a referendum on the mayor. Its a referendum that will decide if you lose more services. You can not compare the two. Voting yes or no will not determine if the mayor still has a job or decide on more accountability.
joy orlando September 13, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Well, Carol, it looks like "he" accomplished what he set out to do...and that is throw out information that totally confuses those who utilize, in particular, the Senior Center. Have you ever seen a time where the Senior Center didn't operate. Further, if someone is doing a grant writing job, they should be looking for the grants to cover things like the Senior Center, Library etc. Maybe they are and myself and others aren't aware.
ralph cramden September 13, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Who is saying VOTE NO to stick it to the mayor? I have not read that anywhere. Please tell where that is. The VOTE NO is about accountability, nothing more. Yes a NO VOTE will result in more accountability. Your head appears to be in the sand. Do you not demand accountability.
donny September 13, 2012 at 03:28 PM
o
donny September 13, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Passero and Nolan should definitely resign. There is a huge conflict of interest and they never should have even submitted their name as capable candidates for council. They really should not, and many times do not vote on important issues like the fire department, police department and the budget.
Greg Bryant September 13, 2012 at 03:54 PM
I had a lot of respect for Passero until he turned away from the people's best interest in exchange for a pension boost. There are rumors that he wants to run for mayor next time. We would be better off with Daryl than Passero. We already know that Daryl is not working for us, with passero we will always be guessing. Time for Passero to step down. He has become a lame duck.
Sue P. September 13, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Carol it is up to the council to see what will be cut. There is so much missing from this proposed budget. One example is how much do we actually pay out in pensions. How much do we actually pay out in health insurance. Sorry that was 2 examples and I have a few more. Jeff Smith is responsible for all of this info but there seems to be a lot hidden. Could this stuff be hidden because the Charter says that the financial directer is personally responsible?
Greg Bryant September 13, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Jeff Smith is being directed not to provide information, keep the people scared and in the dark. Keep in mind that Finizio was the mayor and guy in charge for the last 7 months of the last fiscal year and $1.7 million dollars was over spent in that 7 months. Finizio is not held harmless in this mess. $1.7 million in 7 months how much damage can he do in 3 more years? VOTE NO!
Sue P. September 13, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Greg, I feel the same way about Passero. Just when I thought he was looking out for the best interest of the people he turns his back on us for personal gain.
Dirk Langeveld September 13, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Just added a memo from the law director to the mayor on the process that he says should take place if the budget is defeated at referendum.
Brian Giesing September 13, 2012 at 06:58 PM
@Felicia Henderson,Sue P thank you for your comments, I do agree accountability is important, however that accountability falls on ALL OF US, we (and I include myself) should have been holding the city's feet to the fire when we had no tax increase AND property tax relief to properties that should have been taxed, as Bill Clinton would say (whether you like him or not) "the math don't add up". @LB,citygirl, sorry your income didn't go up, mine fell almost in half due to a disability pension I neither wanted or was ready for. If your income situation sucks, I am sorry, but that is not the fault of the city or its taxpayer's I had to make adjustment's and concessions to bring my budget under control and sorry to say that is your responsibility to do the same, not expect everybody else to take a hit because you did. Anyways I thank you for your input even if we disagree on this point. Bob Stuller, thank you, I think you get that cuts to any services has its consequence and further cuts may not be in our best interest. Remember people, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
Brian Giesing September 13, 2012 at 07:02 PM
I just wanted to add that the electric company, the oil company, the Federal, State (especially the State, which has no heart) and City Tax offices as well as any other creditor, had no care if I made enough money or not. They wanted it and if they didn't get it they would utilize any means to do so.
Greg Bryant September 13, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Brian, exactly accountability falls on all of us, if we roll over and vote yes there is no accountability. The Law Director is incorrect a budget failing at referendum goes back to council not to the mayor to make a new budget. The people referendum'd what the council passed. It goes back to council to cut further. The mayor is out of the picture and the law director is incorrect. But the mayor will not be able to follow through with his threats unless he creates a new budget. This will be the next battle. We will see what branch of gov't stands their ground. We could do a pool on who wins and use that money to fund the city programs. Stand up for your city and vote no!
Brian Giesing September 13, 2012 at 08:41 PM
@Greg Bryant, I respectfully disagree on the point of accountability. We are not "rolling over" if we vote yes. Personally I say to hell with the Mayor and the Council. They were too concerned with fighting each other rather than doing the job they were elected to do and that was to watch out for us. I did not read Dirk's note yet on the finance director so I don't know what he opinion ed. And it does not matter. Save your money on that pool. no matter what, we lose. I am asking for a yes vote, not for the mayor, nor the council, but for all of us and that would be the best show of accountability of all. Taxpayers making the decision. If you decide to vote no, I respect your decision, just make sure its for the right reasons and not out of frustration with any branch of the government. Remember our vote will have consequences.
RICHARD WASELIK September 14, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Brian, thank you. This was my point. And to the others, yes that has been a lot of the argument by many. Vote "no" to prove to the Mayor and Council they need accountability has been the platform for most of the comments on these articles. It benefits no one, especially the tax payers. Vote "yes" if you want to build a city people want to come to.
Spencer September 14, 2012 at 01:12 PM
How can you say yes to a budget--where the biggest adviser of it (aka finincial adviser Jeff Smith) doesn't even know if we have money that we don't have, because the money we have isn't money that we have??" (For those of you who don't know--what that is about--that is a paraphrase of a speech Jeff gave before Councils back in May--after John Maynard asked him where do we stand--when there where 25 FFers and 10 POers whose jobs were on the line!!) When you have a finance director who doesn't even know what is going on in the very budget he is suppose to work on--how in the world are you going to vote yes--if we don't even know all the facts about the budget--because the people who are working on it--don't even have all the facts???????
Spencer September 14, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Richard--have you moved to New London yet?? Oh--wait--that is right---you only work here!! I tell you what--how about you actually move here--be it owning a house or renting an apartment--before you tell us what will make people move here. I don't know what the financial situation in Mystic is--but gethering fromthe amount of tourists you get every summer--as compared to NL--I doubt the situation is as equal. We get that you want this referendum to pass on the account that you represent a Union that will benefit greatly from this--however the no votes represents families with diminishing bank accounts that can't pay for this. So again Richard--move here--and we will take your advice at face value. Stay in Mystic--we are not buying it!
Matthew Macunus Jr. September 14, 2012 at 01:21 PM
VOTE NO, VOTE NO, VOTE NO, What other choice do you have without all the information? To vote yes for something without all the facts is a foolish move. Are you a fool or are you a concerned citizen who wants to make an informed educated decision? These are the questions that need to be asked. It seems that there are a few councilors that do business in this manner, get all the facts before voting yes on an issue. That is responsible representation by any elected official. How could any citizen tolerate anything less from their elected officials? How can they expect less from themselves? Wake up and follow and support those that demand answers and accountability. Anything less will result in more of the same that the city of New London has had for too many years. So simple a NO VOTE moves New london forward, a YES VOTE maintains the status quo.
Sue P. September 14, 2012 at 01:42 PM
There is a David Collins opinion piece today that ask the question of what and why are the Mayor and the Finance directer hiding information from the public. New London don't be fooled again vote No and let's see what they are hiding.
Spencer September 14, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Ladies and getnlemen of the Jury--to follow up on Sue P's comment--I submit to you---evidence of transparency-- http://www.theday.com/article/20120914/NWS05/309149931#.UFMzCHc8vnk.facebook
Matthew Macunus Jr. September 14, 2012 at 02:11 PM
More simple facts that point to a NO VOTE as the only choice. Remember it's our money we should know where it goes.
Kitty Crow September 17, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Vote NO !!!! Taxes are already too high, and the city is a mess!!! The tax increase would not improve our police, fire, and public work services....they would simply remain pretty much as is. Don't let Richard the city employee from Mystic fool you he is making more than $24.00 per hour in these economic times thats pretty damn good. And Richard like most of our union city employees live OUTSIDE of new london. No matter what New London will still have public low income housing, social service offices, gangs, CRIME, and a high homeless population - quality of life issues for taxpayers. STOP PAYING THE UNUSALLY HIGH UNION SALARIES, MAYOR AND HIS STAFF SALARIES AND LOWER TAXES NOT RAISE THEM !!!!!!
Kitty Crow September 17, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Foolishly, taxpayers elected the COP and FIREMAN to be on the city council and now your stuck with their partiality to their own causes. Just like the HUGE mistake taxpayers made when they elected FINZIO and trusted ACKLEY !!!!!!!!!!! New Londoners are their own worst enemies.

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