A for the 2013 fiscal year advanced another step on Monday as the Board of Finance approved the recommended appropriations in a 3-1 vote.
Four people from the five-member citizens’ oversight board were present to pose questions to representatives from the . Finance Director Jeff Smith said he will be updating city councilors with the actual 2012 fiscal year figures versus budgeted amounts until that year ends on June 30.
I think we’ve been doing our best to hold our expenditures back, but there are some places we simply can’t,” said Smith.
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Smith said it will be the responsibility of Mayor Daryl Finizio as well as the City Council to ensure that city departments operate within their budgets. He said New London is in a difficult position in part because of its status as one of the larger communities in southeastern Connecticut.
“We’re still in the same boat we’ve always been in, providing services for all the surrounding communities and providing services for those who don’t have as much,” said Smith.
Smith said the inability of some patients to pay is a likely contributor to less-than-expected ambulance revenues. He said he was unsure what savings could be realized if the ambulance service is privatized, and said the City Council will have to make that determination.
Smith said the court is still considering ’s . Board of Finance member Jerry Fischer said he was concerned that the city might be “willfully blind” to a significant drop in revenue that could occur if the court agrees with the company.
“In future years, if this draws out, we should set aside a reserve against potential precipitous tax revenue decreases,” said Fischer.
Fischer also questioned whether the city has looked into seeking more revenue from the ferry services. Council President Michael Passero said there are some interstate commerce issues with the proposal, and that the Port Authority needs to research the issue to make a determination.
“There’s lots of interest in it,” said Passero. “I don’t know why it’s been bounced around for so many years and nobody’s acted on it.”
Public Works Director Timothy Hanser said that although the city saw fewer winter storm events in the current fiscal year, it overran the storm account by paying $45,000 in overtime in addressing damages from Tropical Storm Irene. Hanser estimated that the city’s roads and sidewalks need $40 million in repairs, and said he is working on a five-year, $20 million plan to address all of the sidewalk and half of the road issues.
The board discussed other potential revenue streams and cost-saving measures to implement in coming years, including the use of solar panels to reduce electricity costs and a stormwater authority to generate revenue for water infrastructure. In addition to the approval vote, the board unanimously approved a motion by Rob Funk to have the City Council look into either increasing ambulance revenues or privatizing the service if this cannot be accomplished.
The budget consists of a $42,466,252 appropriation for the municipal budget and $40,626,405 appropriation for . Some critics of the proposal have said that it is too burdensome of a tax increase, while others have .
Sharon Griffis, the opposing vote on the board, said she was concerned that the budget was not an accurate reflection of the city’s finances.
“I don’t want taxes to go up, like everyone else, but I’m very concerned that we’re under-budgeted,” she said.
Finizio, addressing the board at the beginning of the meeting, thanked both the Board of Finance and City Council for their work on the budget. He said he thinks the council’s proposal, which makes significant cuts to his initial but still represents an 8.33 percent tax increase, is the lowest the budget can go without impacting essential services.
“Any further significant reductions at this point would cripple the city’s ability to really meet its mandates to various departments and to keep the city financially solvent,” said Finizio.
By the end of the month, the council must pass the appropriation ordinances for the 2013 fiscal year budget. Finizio may veto the budget or certain line items within 10 days of receipt. Residents may also petition to challenge the budget proposal at a referendum vote.