New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio will present his proposed 2013-2014 budget to the City Council tonight. It will begin another challenging fiscal debate.
Soon after taking office in December 2011, Mayor Finizio, the first mayor elected under the charter change to a mayoral system, sounded the alarm that the city faced a fiscal crisis. While many questioned the legitimacy of his claims, subsequent evaluations and audits demonstrated the city had been using inflated revenue projections and overspending. The result was deficit spending.
After many tough cuts, revenue adjustments and a tax increase, the city has worked to get its budget under control - to the credit of this council and mayor - and Mayor Finizio has vowed to finish the fiscal year that ends June 30 in the black.
But the cuts already made, the contracts renegotiated, limit the ability to control spending without cutting deeper into services. All things being equal, a flat budget would keep taxes stable, but the city, like most municipalities, faces state budget cuts.
Under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget proposal, $1.56 million in state aid previously available to help the city pay for services would shift to the "Local Capital Improvement Program." The money could be available for construction projects, after an application process, but it will not help pay for police and firefighters. Another $570,000 in PILOT aid - payments made to the city to partially offset non-taxable state and non-profit private institutions - would shift to education and be unavailable for paying city services.
Those losses in revenue, $2.1 million, represent about 5.2 percent of current general government spending.
However the mayor chooses to address these fiscal challenges, and both spending cuts and a tax increase appear likely, we urge the mayor and council not too expend excess time and energy debating how numbers are arrived at and move as quickly as possible to the primary task - setting priorities and deciding how to pay for them.
Mayor Finizio tells us, in leading up to tonight's budget release, he has sought to keep communications open with council members. So while the details will be new, the challenge the city faces should not come as a shock. This spirit of communication needs to continue throughout the budget process to come.
"This is not cut and abandon," Mayor Finizio said of the budget he will present tonight. "This is cut and replace. It is doing things differently because of fiscal realities."