New London's COG dues lost in transition

New London - Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio has pulled the city out of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, saying he does not have $15,000 to pay its annual dues.

He said the City Council removed the line item from the 2012-13 budget.

"We've been saying for months we are in a very, very tight budget,'' Finizio said Wednesday. "We have no reserves, no fund balance, no money.''

But Councilor Adam Sprecace, who was surprised to learn Finizio was pulling out of COG, said the money was taken out of the City Council's budget with the understanding that the dues would come out of the mayor's budget. The mayor or his designee represents the city on the 20-town council.

"The decision was made to keep council-related items in the council's budget and mayoral-related items in (the) mayor's budget,'' Sprecace said. "When we went through this part of the budget, there was an expectation (that the mayor's) budget would assume responsibility to pay the dues.''

Finizio said he may be asking the City Council for permission to transfer money from another department to pay the annual fee.

"We want to be a member, we want to continue to work with SCCOG,'' Finizio said.

Sprecace said he would consider transferring money to maintain the city's involvement.

"It's something that needs to get done,'' he said.

In an email late Wednesday, council President Michael Passero said despite confusion stemming from the recent change in the city's form of government, "There should be no doubt that the City can well afford, and receives incredible value in exchange for, SCCOG's relatively modest dues.

Passero said the city appreciates the nearly $9 million in transportation improvement projects that have been funded by the council of governments over the last 5 years.

"The City is also benefiting from the current $1.185 million Montauk Avenue Pavement Rehabilitation project and we look forward to working with (SCCOG) on the nearly $11 million dollars in anticipated and pending transportation projects over the next few years," he wrote. "In short, I do not anticipate any interruption in the City's membership of SCCOG."

James Butler, executive director of the local Council of Governments, said that COG received a letter from Finizio at its meeting Wednesday morning.

"I am unable to legally authorize payment without Council approval,'' Finizio wrote in the brief letter to Butler. "I hope New London's withdrawal of membership is not seen as an unwillingness to work with the region on matters that concern all of us.''

Butler said there have been communications between COG and the city and that COG will be in touch with city about its membership "in the near future."

"We hope this can be resolved. New London is one of our center cities and has been a member of this organization for over 40 years," Butler said. "COG has a strong desire that New London remain a member."

He said he hopes the mayor finds the money to maintain membership. New London pays $15,191 in dues to the organization, about 55 cents per capita, Butler said.

Staff Writer Julianne Hanckel contributed to this report.

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