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Proposed Norwich budget comes in at $116.5 million, with 5.1 percent tax increase

By Claire Bessette

Publication: TheDay.com

Published April 01. 2013 8:00PM   Updated April 02. 2013 12:40AM

Norwich -- City Manager Alan Bergren presented a combined city and school budget of $116.5 million Monday night that includes flat funding the school budget and a 1.5 percent or $1.8 million increase in the city budget.

The plan, which would require a 5.1 percent property tax increase, calls for $70.4 million in education spending and $38.4 million for city departments. Bergren and city finance department officials said calculations of state funding proved difficult, because Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has shifted major portions of traditional grants into capital improvements funding.

Bergren used the governor's proposed state funding numbers — except Malloy's proposal to eliminate the motor vehicle tax — and said it would cut or shift $2 million in grants to capital expenses. It also shifted some school grants to school reform funding rather than the operating budget.

While spending would increase by only 1.5 percent, city taxes would have to rise by 5 percent or 1.37 mills to a new tax rate of 27.91 mills citywide. Property owners in the central fire district would see another nearly .5 mill increase to 5.05 mills to cover the $7.1 million paid fire department budget. Residents in the city's five volunteer districts would pay an additional 0.36 mills for volunteer firefighter pensions.

Bergren is proposing using $400,000 from the city's general fund to offset a portion of the tax increase.

Bergren proposed no spending increase for the $70.38 million Board of Education budget, despite a $1.5 million tuition increase at the Norwich Free Academy. The school requested a 2.15 percent increase to cover the NFA increase.

Even without a spending increase, the board was able to add two mental health workers in its budget and restored middle school world languages, answering calls from parents during a budget public hearing.

But Superintendent of Schools Abby Dolliver said if Bergren's flat-funding stands, those new additions likely would be cut to absorb the NFA increase, and the board would be forced to make other cuts.

"If we have to cut $1.5 million, we would have to cut 20 teachers in addition to the five new positions we were going to add," Dolliver said.

The city side of the budget contains no new programs, but carries over some additional staffing for public safety approved by the City Council in recent years. The city police budget would increase by $924,295, reflecting full implementation of added police patrols in Greeneville, downtown and Taftville that were approved last year.

Bergren said most departmental increases reflect contractual salary and benefits increases. The city manager's budget would cover back-up secretarial costs for vacations and supplemental pay to a current city department head to serve as Bergren's assistant. Bergren said he is working on making arrangements for that person's duties and time.

The budget would delay hiring of an assistant human resources director by one year to next April. The position was controversial in recent months as the Norwich branch of the NAACP complained that the position was advertised only in-house when the person's duties would include increasing minority hiring. It said that with 92 percent of city's employees being white, there would be few chances for a minority employee to apply for the position.

The City Council now takes over the budget process and will hold hearings with city departments and the Board of Education and will hold two budget public hearings before adopting a final budget in June. By city charter, the council must adopt a budget by the second Monday in June.

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