New London's budget pain

The budget New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio recently presented to the City Council bears no resemblance to the first spending plan he unveiled after his election as mayor, the one that infamously proposed a 20 percent tax increase and largely sustained services. That was dead on arrival at the council. After much debate, program cutting, extended arguments over revenue projections, and one referendum, Mayor Finizio ultimately signed a budget with a 5.1 percent tax increase into law.

Going from one extreme to another is a fit term in this case. Mayor Finizio second budget proposal would decrease general government spending by $1.07 million, while passing along the Board of Education's request for a 2.5 percent spending hike, about $1 million. All totaled, that's a city budget of $81.09 million, a $71,615 cut.

Things being equal, an essentially flat budget would produce no increase in taxes. But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposes reductions in municipal aid. As a result the mayor suggests a modest 3.1 percent tax increase to support current spending. Due to inflationary pressures, and contractual salary increases, maintaining spending actually means cutting the projected increase. And some of the cuts are quite drastic.

The budget would eliminate about 20 police positions, close a fire station, defund the senior center, cut back at Public Works, at Parks and Recreation, and slash funding for the library.

To Mayor Finizio's credit, and in working with the City Council, he has confronted the city's fiscal problems since his election. Before his arrival the city was spending beyond its means, exhausting its Fund Balance Reserve and running deficits. If his budget were adopted it would mean a total decrease in general government expenditures of $3.5 million since his election, a nearly 8 percent reduction.

The council is not happy with many of the cuts, particularly in public safety, but we see no obvious alternatives to achieving needed savings. Trimming the education budget request to find more cash for city services appears likely, but after several years of flat funding some increase in education spending is necessary. What Mayor Finizio said he will not accept is any phony boosting of revenue projections, and he shouldn't.

While the degradation in city services is becoming alarming, New London has to live within its means, and Mayor Finizio proposes a budget that does that.

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