New London City Council establishes special fund to be used for school maintenance, repairs

New London - The City Council on Monday established a special nonlapsing account to help pay for maintenance and repairs of the city's schools, using funds left over in the Board of Education's budget.

The council also committed to depositing at least 50 percent of the board's surplus, if it has one at the end of the fiscal year, into the account.

"Any of the work for school buildings that comes out of this fund is money that would be coming out of our pocket anyway because we're responsible for the maintenance of those buildings," Councilor Michael Passero said. "So we're trying to build up a reserve account to help us do the job we should be doing and haven't been doing very well."

Board of Education President Margaret Mary Curtin called the council's action "a step forward."

In December, the Board of Education passed a resolution requesting that the City Council establish the nonlapsing account and deposit its Fiscal Year 2013 surplus of $398,174 into that account.

However, the city had already used the board's surplus to help balance its deficit.

In order to avoid a similar situation if the board ends this fiscal year with a surplus, the council amended the resolution to guarantee that at least half of the board's surplus will be deposited into the account.

"My concern is that this could be a hollow act unless we incentivize them and guarantee them that if there is a surplus in their budget on June 30 that money would fall into this account," Passero said before proposing the amendment.

Once there is a balance in the account, the Board of Education will have to request that the City Council approve any expenditures from it.

Curtin said the Board of Education, not the City Council, should have the authority to authorize expenditures from the account.

"I don't think that's according to the statute, unless they're circumventing the statute," she said of the authority given to the council. "I'll have to look into that."

Under legislation passed in 2011, the Board of Education is allowed to keep up to 1 percent of its total budget in a nonlapsing fund to pay for unexpected maintenance and repairs.

But in drafting the resolution that the council adopted Monday, Finance Director Jeff Smith used "the general authority of the municipal government" rather than the authority granted by the 2011 legislation.

"In writing this, my goal was to make sure the council was involved in how we would continue to repair and maintain our buildings since I think the council has the ultimate responsibility to keep these buildings up," Smith said.

Smith had recommended that the council deposit $500,000 from a city capital reserve account into the nonlapsing fund. Councilors tabled the proposal, saying they wanted to wait until they have a better sense of how a series of bonding ordinances it approved Monday will affect the city's finances.

c.young@theday.com

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