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New London - The City Council's Finance Committee on Tuesday night approved close to $940,000 in cuts to the $42.3 million budget that failed at referendum last week.
The committee forwarded a budget proposal with a 5.1 percent tax increase to the full council for discussion at a special meeting Thursday.
The cuts include the mayor's proposal to trim $250,000 from the police department by leaving five vacancies open this year. Those five would be in addition to 10 vacancies already left open in the 2012-13 budget, leaving the department with 81 employees.
The full council will discuss the proposed $41.4 million budget proposal at 6 p.m. Thursday. The proposal is 2.4 percent less of a tax increase than last week's failed proposal of 7.5 percent. The proposed tax rate, also passed Tuesday, is 26.6 mills, which is 0.62 mills less than the failed proposal.
Each motion passed 2 to 1, with Councilors Michael Passero and Adam Sprecace voting in favor of the proposals and Councilor John Maynard against.
The cuts discussed Tuesday were identical to those presented at Monday's finance meeting, which was continued because Maynard requested additional time to propose cuts that would avoid the cuts to the police budget.
Maynard on Tuesday called for cutting anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 from most department heads' salaries and leaving certain positions, like a fire battalion chief post, vacant. He also proposed adding a public works employee at a roughly $50,000 salary to cut down on overtime costs in that department. Finance Director Jeffrey Smith estimated Maynard's cuts would total about $272,000 in savings.
"That's actual money savings, not eliminating positions," Maynard said. "It's more or less downsizing the amount we pay our government or upper management to have more feet on the street, or plows on the road, in this case."
But Maynard's changes failed by a 2-to-1 committee vote. Though the committee comprises only three members, six of the seven city councilors attended the committee meeting. Councilor Donald Macrino did not attend.
Just days after voters rejected the budget, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced he was laying off his administrative assistant. The savings from that decision will be about $45,000, while another $280,000 would be cut from the finance office because a proposal to combine the municipal and school business offices will not be done this fiscal year.
The city also could save about $500,000 by restructuring its debt. Passero said that estimate "is the one wild card in this budget" but is a necessary risk.
"We could survive that and run into any other problems in the next nine months," he said. "Everything is a gamble."
The committee's budget also includes some budget increases, including about $60,000 for an audit, about $73,000 to the law director's budget and $5,300 for additional Southeast Area Transit (SEAT) bus dues.
Earlier in the meeting, the committee voted unanimously to bring to the council a proposal to commission an operational audit of most city departments. The cost could total approximately $30,000, but Sprecace said he thought it was a "good investment."
The operational audit could serve as a "stepping stone" for a forensic audit if the examination of city finances finds discrepancies, Sprecace said.
"This is an important milestone, financially, for the city," he said.
The full council will pick up discussion of the operational audit during its regularly scheduled meeting Monday.