The New London conundrum

We don't believe the citizens of New London should petition the revised $41.3 million general government budget to referendum. We do believe they have the right to do so.

After watching voters reject the general government budget at referendum by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin, the City Council trimmed about $1 million through a combination of budget cuts and rearranging debt to save on interest. The changes reduced the projected property tax increase from 7.5 percent to 5.1 percent.

After several years without a tax increase, this is a reasonable budget. If anything, it is too low. After years of overspending and dependence on unrealistic revenue projections, the administration of Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, working with the council, made a good faith effort to adjust revenues and control spending. Contract renegotiations and procedural changes lowered fire and police department costs. Staffs were trimmed in many departments. The mayor contends any unexpected expenses, such as dealing with a bad winter, will necessitate further cuts.

Forcing the council and mayor to reduce the budget further, four months into the fiscal year, could create genuine hardship for the city, detract from public safety and invite insolvency.

But while we urge against again petitioning the budget to a vote, we do not agree with a legal ruling that prevents a petition.

The City Charter caps the spending of city departments at no more than 25 percent of last year's budget while waiting for an appropriation ordinance to become effective. It is a bad rule. During a prolonged budget fight, as the one witnessed this year, there is no way to keep within the cap without shutting down the city, which is not a reasonable option. And the city has exceeded the cap.

What we don't agree with is the opinion of attorney Jeffrey T. Londregan, director of law, that because the city exceeded the cap it precludes the referendum option. It makes no logical or legal sense to us that because the administration violated one provision of the charter (the cap) it blocks citizens from invoking their rights under another section of the charter.

We can't blame the mayor for following the attorney's opinion, which adheres to precedent set by prior law directors. Ignoring the opinion of the city's attorney, particularly when it keeps with past practice, would put the mayor in a legally tenuous position. Still, we disagree.

At the very least, a future charter commission should address this conundrum.

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