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New London has arrived at a critical moment in its history. Next Tuesday voters will be asked to do the most unpopular thing in politics, raise their own taxes. At forums throughout our city I have heard the anger expressed by residents at how our city has reached this point. Reserves are empty, services are being cut and long-time employees are leaving city service. There is blame enough to go around.
I support a forensic audit, and/or an operational audit, to assess fully how this occurred, but whoever blame may be assigned to, this much is clear, we are where we are. New London is on the brink of bankruptcy. A bankruptcy could bring about a state takeover, and state imposed tax increases that would make the now proposed increase pale by comparison. We must rise to the challenge this threat presents or the great potential of New London could be squandered.
These are difficult times in our city, yet we have reason to be hopeful. Working together, the administration, the City Council, the city's public sector unions, and active citizens have pared down our government to record low levels. We've cut spending in almost every department: Police, Fire, Public Works, Parks and Recreation, IT, the mayor's office, the City Clerk's office, and the Office of Development and Planning. The city workforce has been reduced by over 10 percent and attrition will expand this reduction as the year progresses. Union concessions have saved the city millions. Comp time has been abolished. Every procedure of city government from vehicle allocation to how copies are made has been reviewed and altered to save money.
The proposed tax increase is almost entirely a correction in our city revenue estimates (91 percent of the increase is revenue correction, 9 percent is mandatory debt service and insurance premium increases.) It was the overestimation of city revenues, along with a failure to raise taxes even as budgets grew, that depleted our fund balance and brought New London to the financial brink. Now the city is spending far less on staff, salaries, and services.
Further cuts would mean essential city services would need to be put on the chopping block. These cuts would be far more harmful to our community than their modest savings would provide. If we were to cut another 2.5 percent from the projected tax increase (to go from the proposed 7.5 percent rate to a 5 percent rate increase), we would need to switch to bi-weekly trash pick up, cut youth programs, cut library funding, lay off productive workers and perhaps even close the Senior Center. Doing this would save the average homeowner slightly more than one dollar per week.
No one really wants to pay more. Who would? Every dollar taken from a small business or a homeowner is painful. What this budget does ensure is that the sacrifice demanded will be shared equitably and fairly.
With our city finances stabilized, however, New London can finally begin to grow. Development is beginning this year at Fort Trumbull. The city is working with the U.S. Coast Guard Foundation to bring the national Coast Guard museum to New London. Electric Boat is growing hundreds of new jobs in New London and other businesses and developers are looking at sites in the city.
If we accept this budget we will be righting our own ship, on our own terms. If the state is forced to right it for us, the service cuts and tax increases imposed on us would be far harsher; just ask Waterbury, or any other community that went through such a process. Such an event could sacrifice all the great progress that we are beginning to see in our city.
I believe that it is time to do what is necessary. Let us come together to save New London. Vote "yes" on Sept.18 and together we will move New London forward.
Daryl Justin Finizio is the mayor of New London.