New London’s 2013 municipal budget and tax rate remain uncertain as the City Council tabled a vote on the issues tonight and opponents of the previous budget said they will challenge the budget as it currently stands.
The council, which held a special meeting to act on a recommended by the Finance Committee, will next consider the issues on Oct. 9. Councilor President Michael Passero previously said the meeting was called to try to resolve the matter prior to next week’s regular meeting, when one councilor is on vacation.
The decision aims to give the Finance Department enough time to put together a comprehensive document on the revised budget. Councilor Adam Sprecace said the budget materials presented to him did not have information on areas such as longevity, division based health costs, and pension contributions.
Sprecace made a similar complaint prior to a Sept. 18 referendum, which rejected the $42,323,256 budget and 27.22 tax rate approved by the council on June 19. Sprecace said he had previously received the requested information, but wanted to ensure that it would be available to the public in the document that is put on the city's website.
“This information has to be put online for the public by the time we requested it,” he said.
Finance Director Jeff Smith said the department had been working on revising the budget document since the Finance Committee voted on Tuesday to recommend the budget and tax rate.
“I know sometimes it seems like we can just push a button, but there is a significant amount of grunt work required,” he said.
At the referendum vote, 1,436 were against the budget while 1,007 were in favor of it. The tax rate was also defeated in a 1,470 to 963 vote.
The Finance Committee met three times after the referendum and ultimately voted 2-1 on Tuesday to accept a budget reduction recommended by Smith. The majority of the budget reduction comes from $500,000 in anticipated savings in debt refinancing, which Smith said would be possible under current interest rates. He said the city may have to make additional reductions if a smaller savings are realized when the refinancing is done in November.
Another $280,000 would be removed from the Finance Department due to a decision by Dr. Stephen Adamowski, a special master appointed to the New London Public Schools, to stop a plan to have the department absorb the expenses of the school district’s business office.
The budget also makes a number of adjustments resulting in both budget increases and decreases. These include $46,966 cut from personnel costs, a $160,000 reduction to 60-day collections revenue, and a $73,150 increase to the law department budget.
Doug Schwartz said he did not believe the committee’s actions would lead to “fiscal sanity” in the city, saying he felt several costs had been put off to a later date. He said he also thought the council had conceded too much to municipal unions, leading to high pension and retirement costs.
“This is why people are going to petition and shoot it down,” said Schwartz. “It’s unacceptable.”
Avner Gregory, of the group Lower Our Taxes, said he did not consider that the council had done an adequate job or lowered the tax rate far enough. He also accused Passero, a member of the New London Fire Department, of being influenced by the city’s unions.
“We’re going back to referendum,” he said. “This is not going to stand.”
Passero responded that he and the councilors have worked diligently on the budget and that he planned to continue work through the fiscal year to monitor costs and seek additional revenues.
“I don’t accuse you of working for one faction of the city just because we disagree,” he said. “I think the debate should remain civil.”
Frank Jarvis, a New London Police Department detective, said he considered that there has been increased “rhetoric” about the municipal unions in recent weeks. He said the unions have forfeited salary increases and made other sacrifices as New London works on its budget.
“I really don’t want to hear any nonsense about the unions, particularly the police union, not making sacrifices,” said Jarvis. “We have.”
Jarvis also cautioned the council on a planned $250,000 reduction in the police budget included in the revised budget, saying it could have an effect on public safety. The majority of this reduction would come from leaving five vacant positions in the police department unbudgeted.
Councilors Marie Friess-McSparran and John Maynard said they would oppose the cut in the police department.
“I think it’s a bad place to start when violent crimes are on the rise,” said Friess-McSparran.
Sprecace said he considered that vacancies in the department will be filled by promotion, leaving lower level vacancies that may be filled at a slow rate at lower costs.
“By my math if you started filling the vacancies now you could start paying for each of these positions in February,” he said.
Passero said the department will still be able to prioritize expenses with the cuts and that he did not consider that it would inhibit public safety.
“I do not see this $250,000 cut out of an $11 million budget as hamstringing that operation,” he said. “I think that’s a red herring.”