New London — The first mayor in 90 years elected to run the city has proposed an $87 million budget, which would raise the tax rate by nearly 20 percent.
In a "State of the City" address Monday night before the City Council, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said the proposed 2012-13 budget "is balanced honestly ... (and) preserves our current levels of service.''
The budget, a 6.4 percent increase over the current spending plan of $82 million, includes a $4 million increase in general government spending, from $42 million to $46 million.
It also includes $41 million for school spending, a 3 percent cut from the Board of Education's requested $42.9 million. The school board had requested a 6 percent increase.
The proposed 5-mill tax-rate increase, which would bring the tax rate from 25.31 mills to 30.28 mills, would mean about a $1,200 annual increase for a home assessed at $200,000.
Finizio also outlined a plan, should the council choose to reduce his proposal, to cut about $2 million from the municipal side of the budget by closing a fire station, negotiating with the firefighters' union for minimum staffing to save on overtime costs and redefining the pension plan to allow union members to retire early.
The budget does not include funds for a grants writer or lobbyist, two positions Finizio promised in his campaign.
But Finizio warned the council that further cuts to the education request could be devastating.
"Numerous school positions and programs have been funded in the past by temporary revenues that are due to expire this year,'' he said, adding later, "After years of level funding, without some investment, I fear our schools will be unable to meet their mandate to provide a basic quality education to all our children."
The council was given the budget — hundreds of pages contained in a three-ring binder — just before the meeting started.
Finance Committee meetings will be held April 9, 12, 16 and 17, at times to be announced.
"I am not comfortable with this tax increase,'' said Councilor John Maynard, who said he has yet to review the document. "We're going to have to look through it. I know there will be an increase, but not this one."
Councilor Adam Sprecace, who has disputed an estimated $12 million shortfall in the city finances, which Finizio announced in January, said he was not surprised by the proposed increase.
"We've got a lot of work to do,'' he said.
Council President Michael Passero agreed.
"Taxpayers aren't going to be able to carry this tax burden,'' Passero said. "I know how hard the department heads worked to contain costs, and I know the administration did the best they could.''
In January, the mayor announced the $12 million budget shortfall, which included a $1.3 million deficit in last year's budget, a projected $4.4 million deficit in the current year's spending plan and holes in the fund balance that would have to be replenished.
The current deficit has been reduced by about $1.4 million, but the latest projections have not yet been presented to the council, Sprecace said.