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New London department heads bemoan mayor's proposed cuts

By Kathleen Edgecomb

Publication: The Day

Published April 11. 2013 4:00AM

New London - A proposed $300,000 cut to the library's $670,000 budget would decimate the staff and likely lead to closing down the more than 120-year-old facility, the library director told the Finance Committee Wednesday night.

"We can't function,'' Suzanne Maryeski said. "From the outside it would look fine, but we would be like a school with a principal and no teachers."

The library, which had more than 160,000 patrons last year and offered more than 600 programs, spends about $150,000 a year on maintaining the building. It also raised about $70,000 in donations to offset operating costs and raised another $110,000 for a new roof and to replace the boilers. The city's funding would be just enough for a director and one staff, she said.

Maryeski was one of several department heads who shared with the council's Finance Committee the effects the proposed cuts to their budget would have.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio has proposed a $40.2 million general government budget, which is about a $1 million reduction in spending from the current year and includes cuts to the police, fire and public works departments and the library. The budget would also eliminate senior and youth programs and close the Martin Center.

The fire chief said he had already cut $500,000 from his 2013-14 proposal of $5.9 million. Another $500,000 cut, which Finizio has proposed, would mean closing a fire station and selling off equipment.

"I'm opposed to that,'' Chief Henry Kydd said. "I cannot make it go down any more."

Meanwhile, Recreation Director Tommie Major brought a roomful of seniors and youngsters to support maintaining youth affairs and senior programing and keeping open the Martin Center.

"There's no way under the sun that this institution should be closed,'' Major said, referring to the Martin Center and the Senior Center housed there. "It's wrong to even consider closing it down.'' His comments were met with cheers from supporters.

The mayor's budget calls for shifting the salary of the Youth Affairs director into a special revenue fund, where the director's salary would be paid for with donations from local service groups. The director gets paid about $63,000 annually, but she raised about $500,000 in grant money to fund programs such as summer camps and youth jobs.

Wednesday's was the second in a series of meetings by the Finance Committee to discuss the implications of proposed reductions in spending. The committee will continue to meet with department heads Thursday and will start deliberations on the budget at a later date.

Also Wednesday, members of the Board of Education and school administrators were on hand to answer questions about the proposed $40.8 million education budget, which is roughly a 4 percent increase in spending. But because of state grants to offset the increase, the city is being asked to fund about $1 million, or a 2.5 percent increase.

Some councilors accused the school administration of being unwilling to work together with city government to save money on consolidating services.

Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer took exception to the comments, saying they were "demeaning" and "denigrating" to him and his staff.

"It is unacceptable,'' he said. "I have people who are working their rear ends off. People putting in 80 to 100 hours a week."

School Board Chairman Margaret Curtin also balked at the some of the comments.

"I don't appreciate coming here and getting a tongue-lashing,'' said Curtin, who said she has worked for a year on opening up communication between the two groups. "I'm sorry you don't feel there's any cooperation or collaboration."

The committee will continue budget discussions at 5 p.m. today in City Hall.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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