$83 million budget for New London damned, defended

Kathy Skrabacz of New London becomes emotional as she speaks Monday against proposed budget cuts prior to the Appropriating Board of the City of New London public hearing at New London High School on the annual financial plan for the fiscal year 2012-13. Skrabacz has four children in the New London public school system.
Kathy Skrabacz of New London becomes emotional as she speaks Monday against proposed budget cuts prior to the Appropriating Board of the City of New London public hearing at New London High School on the annual financial plan for the fiscal year 2012-13. Skrabacz has four children in the New London public school system. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

New London - A couple of hundred people showed up for the city's budget hearing Monday, and more than two dozen spoke, presenting opposing views on the proposed $83 million spending plan.

Many called on city officials to cut the budget further, saying property owners, who make up about 40 percent of residents, cannot continue to shoulder the burden of taxes.

"Taxpayers seem to be cash cows,'' Dorothy Mansfield said, adding that property owners cannot afford an addition 8 percent increase in taxes. "If it means eliminating positions maybe that's the way we have to go."

Bill Cornish, a resident and businessman, offered to buy the Water Street Parking Garage and a nearby lot for nearly $1.8 million if the city would use the money to offset a tax increase.

"I'll buy them both and you reduce the mill rate,'' said Cornish, who owns another parking garage on Gov. Winthrop Boulevard. "That's a serious offer, folks, and I'm only going to make it once."

But just as many spoke passionately about giving more money to the schools. Parents, teachers and a couple of students complained that the council has in effect flat-funded the school district for years, and argued for more money to keep improving the schools.

"I'm here to look you in the eye and say, 'Shame on you. Shame on you for flat-funding education,''' said Jamelah Qadir, a third-grade teacher at Jennings Elementary School. "I'm here to speak for the children, for the teachers who teach here and our wonderful librarians.

"I'm here to tell you, pay now or pay later,'' she said.

The Finance Board tentatively will meet Monday to discuss the budget. The board can approve the budget as presented by the City Council, cut from the bottom line, or make recommendations to increase spending.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio Monday endorsed the budget presented by the council, but said he would not recommend any further cuts.

Last week the City Council approved an $83 million budget for 2012-13, which is a 1.5 percent increase in spending over the current $81.845 million budget. Next year's budget includes $40.6 million for schools, which is about $800,000 more than the current school spending plan.

The school board also will have an estimated $180,000 to $500,000 to spend on students and programs because the city is taking over the district's business office.

Sixty-eight teachers and staff members were put on notice last month that they could be laid off because of budget constraints. The school district is required by the state to notify all non-tenured and non-contract employees of possible layoffs.

The budget as proposed represents an 8.3 percent increase in taxes. If approved as it is, property owners will see the mill rate increase by about 2 mills to 27.42 mills.

Prior to Monday's public hearing, about 150 school supporters gathered on the steps of the New London High School to support adding money to the budget for education.

"We are parents, board members, teachers, members of the community, and we have come to let our voices be heard,'' said Mongi Dhaouadi, a parent of three children who organized the rally. "We thought parents' voices have been absent from the discussion. But we made a call. ... Parents in New London do care about the education of their kids."

Dhaouadi also spoke later spoke at the hearing.

Last week, three public works employees were laid off because of budget restraints. The city's personnel director has also retired and her duties will be absorbed by the Chief Administrative Officer Jane Glover. Two members of the mayor's staff also have taken 5 percent cut in pay.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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