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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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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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