Sides are drawn up for New London budget vote

New London - Those for and those against the 2012-13 city budget are gearing up to get out the vote for next Tuesday's referendum on the $42.3 million spending plan.

The mayor, and some members of the Democratic Town Committee and of a newly created Political Action Committee will be knocking on doors Saturday to urge residents to approve the general government budget.

The Republican Town Committee and others who oppose the budget and its 7.5 percent tax increase are sending out flyers, putting up signs and telling residents to vote "No."

"There are an awful lot of Democrats and independents who are not happy either,'' Republican Town Committee Chairman Bill Vogel said Wednesday. On Tuesday night, his group passed a resolution urging members to vote no, in part because the city's finances seem to be in disarray and the budget available to the public lacks details on how money will be spent.

Finizio said he understands residents' frustrations, but years of overestimating revenues and under-budgeting for departments have led to the increase. New London has not had a tax increase in five years.

Even some of Finizio's supporters don't like the tax increase, he said.

"A vast majority (of people) want to voice their disapproval of the government,'' he said. "They're saying they know it's bad, but they have to do something.''

The mayor had proposed a combined general government and education budget of $87.1 million, a 6.4 percent increase in spending that would have required a 20 percent increase in the tax rate. After months of budget meetings, the City Council approved an $82.1 million budget, which includes $39.8 million for education and $42.3 million in general government spending and requires a 7.5 percent increase in taxes.

Residents will vote only on the general government portion of the budget Tuesday.

The Democratic Town Committee voted last month to endorse the budget and its 1.91-mill tax increase. Finizio has been holding forums throughout the city to explain the impact if further cuts are made.

During an interview this week, Finizio said the budget is "bare bones" and more cuts could mean every-other-week garbage collection, the closing of the senior center, layoffs in the mayor's office and public works, and reduced funding for youth affairs, the public library and contributions to nonprofits.

"I wouldn't shut down the senior center,'' he said.

Cutting more would mean hard choices in finding savings, he said.

The city has 31 fewer employees than it did last year, and a projected $1 million plus in savings on overtime in the fire and police departments, he said.

Vogel said many people believe there is too much uncertainty surrounding the city's finances and are not comfortable with the budget numbers that have been presented. During budget discussions, many of the figures changed during meetings and the only discussion about layoffs came after the budget had been approved. It was only then that Finizio announced he would have to lay off 25 firefighters and 10 police officers to balance the budget.

In the end, the city and the unions reached concessions and all layoffs were averted.

"You can't go to the people and say, 'This is the best we can do,'" Vogel said. "New London doesn't like a 7.5 percent tax increase.''

If the mayor had offered "a reasonable budget, I don't think there would have been a referendum,'' he said.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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