New London police and fire jobs saved, but others will go

Officer Michael Lax, right, and fellow New London police officers protest outside City Hall about possible layoffs before a city council meeting Tuesday, May 29, 2012. The blue number on Lax's shirt represents that he will be the sixth to be laid off.
Officer Michael Lax, right, and fellow New London police officers protest outside City Hall about possible layoffs before a city council meeting Tuesday, May 29, 2012. The blue number on Lax's shirt represents that he will be the sixth to be laid off. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

New London — Late Tuesday night, the City Council approved the city's $83 million budget, moving funds around to save the jobs of 25 firefighters and 10 police officers.

But the council's action will mean cuts and layoffs elsewhere. The council eliminated the deputy police chief position, the director of the office of development and planning and an office secretary, the assistant city clerk and the director of risk management. It also reduced the salaries of the chief administrative officer by $20,000, the executive assistant to the mayor by $15,000 and finance director by $20,000.

Because all the amendments made by the council were in a single motion, City Council President Michael Passero, who is a city firefighter, and Councilor Anthony Nolan, who is a police officer, had to recuse themselves from the vote.

The remaining councilors voted 4-1 to on the amendments with Councilor Wade Hyslop voting no. Councilors John Maynard, Donald Macrino, Adam Sprecace and Marie Friess-McSparran voted in favor of the reductions.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio had said that 25 firefighters and 10 police officers would be laid off to meet the budget, and layoff notices went out last week. The layoffs would save the city about $1.2 million.

Some councilors questioned how the mayor could announce layoffs when he had agreed that the proposed $83 million budget was sufficient to maintain all city jobs.

"We had a deal. ... We were going to work together to convince the city that we needed an 8 percent tax increase,'' Passero said, adding that he cannot trust the numbers coming from the administration or take Finizio at his word.

The budget meeting took a strange turn when the police chief sent a text message to the finance director saying she had enough money in her overtime budget to avoid laying off 10 police officers.

"This is no way to run a government,'' said Council President Michael Passero.

Councilor Adam Sprecace called for a recess and, when he returned, he said, "Obviously what everyone is witnessing tonight is not government at its best."

"This is outrageous,'' he said, reacting to Ackley's 11th-hour announcement that she had found money to avoid layoffs.

After hearing from more than a dozen firefighters who received layoff notices on Friday, the council spent most of its time trying to find money in other parts of the budget to save the jobs.

"I am absolutely, thoroughly disgusted,'' Passero said during the meeting. "We have little control over management of this administration. I have lost patience with the disrespect this administration has for this council. We tried to fashion an honest budget, and we had one. To come to this point tonight is disheartening. ... I can't get to the truth of what's going on."

A couple of dozen people, including 14 firefighters who had received layoff notices, pleaded with the council to save the jobs of 25 firefighters and 10 police officers set to be laid off July 1. (Editor's note: This corrects the date given in the original version of this article.)

"I'm begging for help. We're calling 911 and looking for help,'' said Al Mayo, who finished the fire academy last week and received a layoff notice Friday.

Mayo, the first black to be hired in the city in more than 30 years, has been the center of a hiring controversy for several months.

"You have to help us,'' he said.

Firefighters told the council they had families to support, mortgage payments and student loans, and talked of their love of the job and the city.

Kevin Campbell said he relocated from New Jersey to work in New London so he could follow his dream of becoming a professional firefighter.

"I'm now 25 years old, a city of New London resident and taxpayer and up until last week never regretted moving here away from my family,'' he said.

"I'm basically homeless," said Thomas Feliciano, who said he sold his house in Waterford and had put in bids on two houses in New London but had to take them back because of the threat of losing his job.

Firefighters from throughout Connecticut joined their New London counterparts before the council meeting outside City Hall to protest the potential layoffs.

"Any of us could be in the same position,'' said Jeff Erhart, a member of the Poquonnock Bridge department in Groton. "Locally, these are some of the most loyal public servants. They really care about their job and the city."

Also showing support were representatives from Waterford, Norwich, the Submarine Base, West Haven, UConn Health Center and Pratt & Whitney.

Vic Spinnato, a 41-year veteran of the department, said no one has ever been laid off from the New London department. "No one, ever,'' he said.

The city budget includes $40.6 million for education and is about a 1.2 percent increase in spending but would require more than an 8 percent increase in taxes.

Finizio can veto the budget and voters can send it to a referendum.

The council's Finance Committee spent weeks going through the budget line by line and cut the mayor's request by about $4 million. Finizio said his proposal of $87 million, which would have required a 20 percent hike in taxes, would have preserved all jobs in the city.

In addition to public safety layoffs, the school department has put 68 teachers and staff on notice that they could lose their jobs. Three public works employees and one in parks and recreation also received layoff notices. The city is not replacing the personnel coordinator, who is retiring at the end of the month. Also, two members of the mayor's staff will take a 5 percent cut in pay.

New London police officers protest planned layoffs outside City Hall before the city council meeting Tues. May 29, 2012. Officers with a blue number on their chest are the officers who face layoffs.
New London police officers protest planned layoffs outside City Hall before the city council meeting Tues. May 29, 2012. Officers with a blue number on their chest are the officers who face layoffs. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo
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POLL

Do you support the City Hall staff cuts and budget passed Tuesday night by the New London City Council?

Yes, this seems better than losing numerous police and fire jobs.

38%

Yes, this type of budget balancing is long overdue.

18%

Yes, this seems to be the most responsible way to address the city's budget issues.

13%

No, I supported the layoffs of 25 firefighters and 10 police officers.

14%

No, the positions that were eliminated are vital to our city.

6%

No, there has to be another option for city officials to explore.

11%

Number of votes: 622

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