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New London's budget starts to draw attention following mayor's announcement

By Colin A. Young

Publication: The Day

Published April 03. 2014 4:00AM

New London - Much of the conversation after the mayor's State of the City address and budget presentation Tuesday evening focused on Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio's surprise announcement that he will not seek a second term in office.

But by Wednesday, after city councilors and public officials had a chance to digest some of what the mayor proposed, the discussion turned to the city's budget.

"It was a straightforward budget message, in my opinion," Councilor Michael J. Tranchida said. "The mayor didn't sugarcoat anything."

On Tuesday evening, Finizio presented his proposed budget of $87,128,467 in spending - an increase of 7.24 percent over the current year's budget - which he said "pulls us out of the hole, stabilizing our tax rate and our services."

During his address, he said "7.24 percent is a big increase for one year. It's a very big increase. I don't enjoy presenting you with this increase."

Finizio's proposal includes a $1.4 million increase for the police department, funds 12 new public works positions, provides small increases for the library, senior center and recreation department, and uses $500,000 to help replenish the city's sickly fund balance.

"I like the idea of increasing the public works manpower because that is one department that has basically been decimated in the last few years," Tranchida said.

Other councilors said they appreciated the mayor's effort to put together a budget that addresses some of the city's most pressing needs.

"The budget he proposed is a budget that I believe was really well thought about," Councilor Efrain Dominguez said. "There are so many needs in our city. We can't satisfy all of them at once, so let's try to satisfy as many as we can with this budget."

Now that the mayor has presented his budget, it will be up to the City Council to analyze it and make adjustments.

"From what I've seen, a lot of his points are, I think, true. It's just a matter of seeing how he came up with it," Councilor Anthony Nolan said. "It is something that we have to consider. As far as how much, we won't know until we really go through the budget on our own."

Council President Wade A. Hyslop Jr. said Tuesday that, in his opinion, a 7.24 percent increase is "really not that high." He added, though, that the percent increase could change after the council reviews each department's budget.

"People really need to understand how much it costs to run a municipality," Councilor Erica Richardson said. "Unless we start getting businesses coming into the city to help with the tax burden, we're going to have to keep shouldering it."

But despite the proposed increase, Finizio said, many city residents will see their tax bills go down and most downtown property owners will not see a large increase, as a result of revaluation.

"This is one of the few times when a property tax increase will fall largely on those most able to pay," Finizio said Tuesday. "Many of the people with the least breathing room in their personal budgets will see their taxes rise only slightly, or even fall."

But homeowners in the southern part of the city, where properties generally held their value after revaluation, would "get walloped with a tax increase more than what is reasonable," Republican Town Committee Chairman Bill Vogel said.

"The people on the south end of town are often the homeowners, unlike the absentee landlords that own a lot of duplexes on the north end of town," Vogel said. "This increase would be a real kick in the head to people who really try to keep New London a thriving city."

Martin T. Olsen, the sole Republican councilor, said he thinks the council will have to go through Finizio's budget "with a fine-tooth comb."

"I think that the public at large will find this proposed increase to be unacceptable," Olsen said Tuesday. "It will be incumbent upon the council to look at this thing rationally and reasonably and to try to come up with a spending plan that is responsible and also meets our needs."

The general government proposal of $46 million is 12.53 percent more than the current year's budget of $40.8 million, while the Board of Education's $41.1 million portion of the budget represents an increase of 1.9 percent over its current budget.

If Finizio's proposal were adopted, the city's tax rate would increase by 12.20 mills to 39.70 mills.

"I'm sure that the people are going to be looking very closely at tax increases," Councilor Michael Passero said. "So I'll be looking for places in the budget to economize."

The City Council will begin its process of inspecting each department's budget at 5 tonight when it reviews budgets for the fire department, Board of Education, the mayor's office, finance department and others. The council's two other budget review sessions will take place at 5 p.m. on April 10 and 14 at City Hall.

c.young@theday.com

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