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Norwich council looks for places to cut budget, instead increases it

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published May 08. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich - The City Council late Monday wrangled with the 2013-14 proposed $116.5 million city and school budget, saying residents object to the 5 percent tax increase, but ended up increasing spending.

Aldermen H. Tucker Braddock and Francois "Pete" Desaulniers opposed drastic budget cuts needed to avoid a tax increase, saying that would hurt the city just as much.

After heated discussion late Monday, the only budget change approved was a $51,971 addition for fire equipment. Aldermen put off major budget decisions until receiving more solid state grant totals.

City Manager Alan Bergren had proposed the $116.5 million combined budget, with no increase to this year's $70.38 million school budget, and a 1.5 percent, $1.8 million, city government budget increase. Because of declining revenues, the budget would require a 5 percent tax increase.

With the budget addition Monday, aldermen raised the tax rate from Bergren's proposed 27.91 mills to 27.94 mills citywide - not including the 5-mill fire tax to central city property owners.

The Board of Education had requested a $1.5 million, 2.15 percent, increase to cover the tuition increase at the Norwich Free Academy, keeping the prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade portion of the budget flat. Aldermen made no changes to the school budget Monday.

The City Council will hold its second budget hearing at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at City Hall and must vote on a final budget by June 10.

Budget discussions and votes Monday often were contentious.

Democratic Alderman and mayoral candidate Charles Jaskiewicz advocated major cuts to bring the tax increase down and eventually cast the lone vote against the preliminary budget.

Jaskiewicz attempted to cut three items from the capital improvements budget - $274,000 for a police armored vehicle for major incidents, $100,000 for the Norwich Community Development Corp., and $479,000 for road improvements. In split votes, aldermen rejected all three suggestions.

City finance officials said those cuts would not lower the tax increase, either because the costs are covered by state grants or are part of the city charter mandate that 1 mill of taxes be spent on capital improvements.

Aldermen later voted 4-3 to table the NCDC funding request that would accompany a proposed five-year commitment to NCDC's role as the city's economic development agency. Jaskiewicz asked that provisions of the agreement be included in the funding resolution. Nystrom, Alderwoman and mayoral candidate Deberey Hinchey and Alderwoman Sofee Noblick voted against delaying the NCDC funding.

c.bessette@theday.com

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