Out of things to cut, New London City Council OKs 8.3% tax hike

New London — The City Council failed Monday to find additional revenues to offset increases in spending and reluctantly approved an $83 million budget for next year that represents a 8.3 percent tax increase.

“We are at the breaking point,’’ Councilor Donald Macrino said. “I feel as though I’ve failed by agreeing to (the tax) increase.”

The proposed 2012-13 budget includes $40.6 million for schools and $42.5 million in general government spending. It presents about a 2.11 mill increase, bringing the tax rate to 27.42 mills.

A public hearing on the proposed spending package will be held at 7 p.m. May 7 at New London High School.

Councilors Wade Hyslop and Anthony Nolan voted against the budget. Both also voted against a 2 percent cut to the budget proposal that the Finance Committee had recommended earlier in the night.

“I don’t think we can go any lower,’’ Hyslop said. “We have to preserve services. ... I think the public will understand that this is the best we can do.’’

Earlier in the night, during more than six hours of meetings, the Finance Committee approved an $83.8 million budget, which would have increased taxes by 9.7 percent. But when the full council debated the proposal later in the night, Councilor Adam Sprecace proposed another 2 percent decrease to most departments, including police, fire, public works, the mayor’s office, City Council, finance and youth services.

The three-member Finance Committee, which is made up of Sprecace, Councilor John Maynard and President Michael Passero, had said it wanted to keep the tax increase to about 2 percent.

“We’re in a bit of a predicament,’’ Sprecace said Monday night.

“Finding additional cuts has proven to be elusive,’’ Passero added. “Tonight, we learned of about a $1 million less in revenues.”

The city is losing more than $2 million in state funding in the form of Aid to Distressed Municipalities and the Payment in Lieu of Taxes programs. The finance department is also predicting a 97.1 percent tax collection rate; in previous years, the collection rate was at 98.6 percent.

More than a dozen members of the public spoke at the council meeting, including schoolchildren asking to preserve funds for youth services programs; an 85-year-old Pequot Avenue resident who said he couldn’t afford to live in his house and pay his taxes; and the head of the Custom House Maritime Museum who told the council not to give her organization any money this year.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who had proposed an $87.1 million budget, thanked the council for all its work. He said department heads would determine where the cuts would be made. He also gave assurances that the police K-9 unit would not be cut and that the deputy chief position would be funded.

“Any further significant decreases would cripple critical services,’’ he said.

Finizio also said an additional $900,000 could be saved if the city successfully negotiates with the fire department to allow for deferred retirements.

Finizio’s original budget had called for a 6 percent increase in spending over the current budget and 20 percent increase in taxes. It would have raised the tax rate from 25.28 mills to 30.28 mills.

Finizio said the need for the dramatic increase was necessary after years of systemic budget problems. Taking money from the fund balance, knowingly underfunding line items and refusing to raise taxes despite recommendations of former city managers led to a budget crisis, Finizio said.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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