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New London — Taxpayers will get a second crack at the $41.3 million general government budget — but not for a year.
On Monday night, a divided City Council accepted a petition calling for a second referendum on the 2012-13 budget, but could not agree on when to schedule the vote. It eventually deferred to wording in the city charter which stated the referendum would take during "the next municipal election" — in this case November 2013.
"Where are we? In the Twilight Zone?" asked resident William Cornish quietly after the council spent about 90 minutes reviewing the language in the charter, making motions that failed in split votes, and in the end accepting a petition for a referendum but setting the date for next year.
It is expected that the 2012-13 budget will remain intact through the referendum process.
Cornish, a spokesperson for Looking Out for Taxpayers, which began the petition drive, asked the council earlier in the meeting to reconsider the budget and "not to hide behind the law director's opinion."
"This has expanded vastly beyond a money issue,'' he said. " We're looking to you for some kind of balance, some kind a justice."
Two weeks ago, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio instructed City Clerk Nathan Caron not to accept or certify any budget petitions, citing an opinion by the city law director that said the city cannot have a second budget referendum because it has already spent 25 percent of its budget. Attorney Jeffrey Londregan cited a section of the City Charter which he said precludes the council from acting on a petition because of the 25 percent expenditure clause.
But residents, irate that the mayor would try to take away their right to petition their government, set out gathering signatures.
During Monday's meeting, Councilors Wade Hyslop, Anthony Nolan and Donald Macrino voted not to accept the petition as valid.
"We are being ridiculed all over southeastern Connecticut,'' Macrino said, adding that the city can become paralyzed by multiple budget referendum.
Council President Michael Passero and Councilors John Maynard, Adam Sprecace and Marie Friess-McSparran voted to accept the petition.
On Oct. 25, member of LOT submitted a petition to the City Clerk's office with more than 850 signatures, calling for a new vote on the $41.3 million 2012-13 budget.
On Thursday, Londregan wrote an email to the mayor, saying that while he stands by his opinion that the petition is not valid, the clerk should verify the signatures and send the document to the City Council.
"It is in the best interest of the city to have this matter brought to a conclusion so that there is some finality,'' he wrote.
On Monday, Finizio tossed the issue to the Council and said he never wanted to take away anyone's rights, but was following the advice of the law director.
"The decision is now entirely yours,'' he said.
On Monday City Clerk Nathan Caron certified the document had more than the necessary 483 signatures.