Published May 30. 2012 1:00PM Updated May 31. 2012 10:40AM
New London — The mayor will not rescind layoff notices to 35 public safety workers despite City Council actions late Tuesday night that moved money around in next year's $83 million budget to save the jobs.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced Wednesday afternoon that he will continue to negotiate with the fire and police unions to save about $1.2 million and preserve the jobs.
But pink slips sent last week to 25 firefighters and 10 police officers will remain in effect.
"I still believe all layoffs will be avoided,'' Finizio said during a press conference outside his office in City Hall Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, council President Michael Passero called the mayor "cruel."
"He does not have a shred of humanity in him," Passero said.
The City Council approved the 2012-13 budget Tuesday night, keeping the bottom line at $83 million by moving money around within departments, eliminating five City Hall positions and reducing some salaries.
More than a dozen firefighters who will lose their jobs June 30, as well as other members of the public, pleaded with councilors Tuesday night to preserve the jobs. State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, supported the firefighters and police officers and stood with them in a protest outside City Hall before the meeting.
To find the money to retain the public safety jobs, the council eliminated five positions that Finizio has filled since taking office in December. The council cut funding for the deputy police chief, Peter Reichard, who began work May 21; Assistant City Clerk Dawn Currier; Director of Planning and Development Kristin Havrilla Clarke; the mayor's office administrator, Tammy Daugherty; and the city's risk manager, Lauren Cragg. None of the positions has a negotiated contract.
Finizio called the council's action "an inappropriate way to reach a resolution" and accused the council of overestimating revenues to reduce taxes. The budget would require about an 8 percent increase in taxes, bringing the tax rate to 27.22 mills.
Passero accused Finizio of playing politics because the mayor never said during the weeks of budget deliberations that such drastic personnel cuts would be needed to balance the proposed budget.
"We pass the budget, there were no layoffs mentioned. The finance director, the fire chief, the police chief — no one said, 'We have to lay off 25 firefighters and 10 police officers.' No one said that before the public hearing or after the public hearing,'' Passero said. "It's such a transparent, bogus lie. I don't know why anyone gives him any credence."
Finizio said the council decisions "short-circuited" union negotiations.
"Council's actions last night forced the administration to rethink the budget process,'' he said.
Finance Director Jeffrey Smith said revenues that may be overestimated include $450,000 in the state Education Cost Sharing grant and $20,000 in state transportation grants. He also said projected revenue from ambulance collections appears to be too high.
But Councilor Adam Sprecace said Wednesday the council did not discuss those revenues Tuesday night. It did raise revenues by about $325,000 by increasing the Municipal Revenue Sharing account by about $200,000; taking $50,000 from the Water Street Garage enterprise fund; and adding about $75,000 to the tax collection rate.
"My intention was to avoid layoffs in the police and fire departments,'' Sprecace said. "It comes down to priorities. ... It was a decision we had to make, and we made it."
He said he was disappointed that layoffs are still a possibility.
"This is a process,'' Sprecace said. "With the new form of government, we are obviously seeing a separation of powers. City Council cannot order the mayor not to lay off people,'' he said. "I hope he (Finizio) is being sincere."
Finizio said the budget process is not over but is in a "natural pause." He added he will consult with the city attorney about his options.
"I understand emotions are running very high,'' Finizio said. "I know tensions are high. But we will get through this. I encourage everyone to take a deep breath and pause for a moment."
Finizio said he will take all 10 days allowed by the City Charter before making a decision on whether to veto the budget.
The mayor can veto the budget the council approved Tuesday, which would send the budget back to the council for a vote to override the veto. An override would require affirmative votes from six of the seven councilors.
If the council fails to override a veto, the mayor and council would have to continue budget deliberations until they reached a compromise. If an override vote were successful, the budget would stand as approved Tuesday night.
Once the council and mayor agree on a budget, residents may petition for a referendum.