OK, so it ain't pretty

At least when it comes to the budget, I contend this new mayoral government in New London is working as intended.

Granted, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio had a tumultuous first few months in office. There was the executive order telling cops to look the other way when they saw someone smoking pot on private property, quickly rescinded when a prosecutor told him you can't do that.

Then there were the signed contracts providing severance agreements to three top-ranking officers His Honor wanted out of the department. The only problem was the City Council hadn't approved the expenditures. The legal fallout continues.

Finizio fired the first black firefighter recruit in more than 30 years. Stood by his position through protests, meetings and buckets full of bad ink. Then last week he rehired the firefighter when a state report concluded the Connecticut Fire Academy had railroaded the recruit, the only African-American in the class.

And that's only a sampling.

But you know, as painful as it is, the budget debate is playing out as it should.

Under the council-manager government the city manager's job depended on keeping four of seven councilors happy. In recent years, at least, that appeared to include using some interesting modern math to balance the city books without raising taxes or demanding major cuts in services. Revenues were tweaked, anticipated savings calculated a bit rosy, expenses underplayed.

A few weeks after taking office and consulting with the finance director, Mayor Finizio announced the city faced a fiscal crisis. An audit found the 2010-2011 budget finished with a $1.3 million deficit and the financial hole had grown larger since.

The mayor's solution was presenting the City Council with a budget that called for a stunning 20 percent increase in the tax rate, providing the revenue Mayor Finizio said was necessary to maintain services. It was a wake up call to the council, one that a manager would not likely have provided if he or she wanted to stay employed.

The council then did its job, passing an $83 million budget that included large cuts in spending and demanded further reductions of the mayor, reducing the proposed tax rate increase to a still large, but somewhat more tolerable, 8.3 percent. Mayor Finizio is now going about the job of finding the cuts needed to meet the council budget.

Still to be heard from are the taxpayers who, when a budget wins final council approval and gets the mayor's signature, could petition it to referendum.

This, I suggest, is how it was supposed to work when voters approved a charter change. When the process is completed, New London will have a more honest budget, upon which it will be easier to build sound fiscal policy going forward.

No one said it would be pretty.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.

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