New London - Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio offered the City Council a way on Monday to avoid laying off 25 firefighters - put $600,000 back in the budget and raise taxes.
But in a split vote, the council rejected the mayor's suggestion, approving the proposed $83 million spending package that councilors spent weeks deliberating. It is the second time the council approved the budget and will revisit it for a third and final vote next week.
Councilors Anthony Nolan, John Maynard and Wade Hyslop voted against the budget. Council President Michael Passero and Councilors Marie Friess-McSparran, Donald Macrino and Adam Sprecace voted for the budget.
"We will probably still debate on how we get to the bottom line,'' Sprecace said after the vote. "But I think that amount ($83 million) is sufficient to do without layoffs."
Nolan voted against the budget, saying he disagreed with a proposal to combine education and municipal finance departments because it would cost the city about $500,000.
Hyslop also voted against the budget for a second time, saying it was too low to support city services and preserve jobs.
Passero, although he voted for the budget, sided with Hyslop.
"I share Councilor Hyslop's concern that we're cutting too much, but we had to somehow satisfy the needs of the taxpayers chafing under an 8 percent tax increase, with people in the community who want to continue services and support employees,'' he said. "When we crafted this budget, we struck a very delicate balance. ... I don't believe this budget requires layoffs."
Maynard voted against the budget, saying he disagreed with previous council action that he believes took away the council's control to make line-item cuts.
Last week, Finizio announced that 25 firefighters and 10 police officers would lose their jobs under the council's proposed $83 million budget. Finizio had proposed an $87 million budget that would have preserved all jobs in the city and required a 20 percent tax hike.
After weeks of review, the council whittled the mayor's proposal to $83 million. It is just over a 1 percent increase from the current fiscal year, but represents an 8 percent increase in taxes because of reductions in revenues.
It also includes cuts in the number of employes who work in the public works and education departments.
Before the council vote Monday night, Finizio said he believed he could avoid layoffs in the fire department by opening up contract negotiations with the union to discuss a defined benefit pension plan.
"I believe we can avoid layoffs,'' he said before the council vote. "But there is another option. Put $600,000 back in the fire department budget and raise taxes.''
Sprecace said he calculated the fire department overtime budget is equal to about 700 hours per year of overtime for each firefighter, a figure he says can't be accurate.
"My suspicion is there are monies in the fire department budget not being used as they were intended,'' he said. "I believe $8 million for the fire department, (which is an increase from last year) is sufficient.''
At the meeting, Rocco Basilica said the fire department would continue to serve the citizens "despite the media binge that's been the New London Fire Department."
Basilica, president of the firefighters' union, said the union will continue to negotiate with the city.
"I'm here looking for some support,'' he said. "We've had two meeting with the city, and hopefully we can meet in the middle somewhere."
The superintendent of schools has put 68 teachers on notice that their jobs may be eliminated at the end of the school year. Three public works employees and a worker in the Parks and Recreation Department also received layoff notices. Others lost their jobs through department restructuring, Finizio said Monday night.
The personnel coordinator's position will be eliminated when Bernadette Welch retires at the end of the month.