New London's budget is destined to go to voters

If Mayor Finizio had stepped out of City Hall Monday and set himself on fire he might have attracted only a little less attention than he did by presenting to the City Council a budget with a 20 percent tax increase.

I haven't run into a single person since Monday who doesn't agree that the mayor's budget plan seems like the act of city official gone mad.

This is 2012, and we are hardly past the Great Recession. The unemployment rate has been soaring for three years and foreclosures are still rising. Big employers around here have been crushed by the weight of this bad economy.

All around the country, many municipalities have been cutting spending and trimming budgets as best they can, trying to get by, trying to make sure that rising property taxes are not what push households and small businesses or the elderly over the edge.

New London already has about the worst tax burden in the region.

City officials in recent years have been keeping the budget together with rubber bands and paper clips and spit, trying to avoid a tax increase.

Maybe, as the new mayor suggests, some of that is coming home to roost this year. So he has a hard job to fix it, to plug the holes and cut spending to meet revenues. It's a job he wanted.

Certainly, no one elected him to drive the old city budget jalopy down to the dealership and sign up for a shiny new model and big new payments.

With a 20 percent tax increase, New London might just as well post a big sign at its borders warning property buyers to stay out: Rising Tax Rates Ahead.

The city also may have to send out letters to homeowners, apologizing not just for the massive tax increase but for depleting what was left of their home values. I am guessing not a single contract to buy a property in the city has been signed since Monday.

I don't have a lot of confidence, from what I've seen so far, that this City Council will be able to bring this spending-drunk mayor to heel. I predict this budget almost certainly will be challenged by petition and go to voters at referendum.

Something has to bring some sanity to the process.

Mayor Finizio chose to deliver his budget bomb with a strange ceremony he called the State of the City Address. Department managers were assembled, with the public, and applauded before and after the speech.

And why shouldn't they applaud? They got to add to their budgets, instead of cutting.

The Finizio budget drew out one old rival, former City Council Rob Pero, who ran against Finizio for mayor. Pero posted on Facebook that the mayor's big spending budget is the opening of a war on taxpayers.

"I for one am ready to fight," Pero wrote. "If the council is unwilling to reduce this spending then let us do it through referendum."

Pero went on to mention some of the mayor's excessive spending to date, citing hundreds of thousands of dollars in new expenditures.

When I caught up with Pero Wednesday, he said he honestly has wished Finizio well, and I believe him.

Pero said he thinks many of the mayor's poor policies have made headlines and embarrassed the city. But it was the new budget that made him speak up.

"Now what he is doing is going affect people in a new and powerful way," said the longtime city councilor. "I think people's anger is pretty high right now."

Pero also said he has been surprised by the mayor's spending on his office and staff. Usually, he said, a new mayor in a small town or city just grabs a phone and computer and gets to work.

In some of his reasonable and conciliatory remarks toward the mayor, Pero said he thinks Finizio needs to widen his circle of advisers. I would tend to agree.

The mayor might say he hardly needs advice from someone he beat handily in November. That may be true. But I doubt Finizio could be elected supervisor of the Parade skating rink right now.

One gets the sense that he needs to hear from others besides the applauding employees assembled at City Hall to hear him speak.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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