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New London - Residents at a public hearing Wednesday continued to voice criticism over city spending, rising taxes and the city's recent decision to bond $1.1 million to replenish its dwindling fund balance.
About 30 people attended the public hearing on the proposed $85.28 million 2014-15 budget, which has preliminary approval by the City Council but may yet be altered. The proposal is a 5 percent increase in spending over the current budget, comprising $44 million in general government spending and $41.3 million for the city's schools.
As it stands, the budget would result a tax increase of about 10.5 mills. The impact on individual property taxes would vary widely since many home values dipped during the last revaluation, while others saw increases.
Despite a decrease in his home value, resident Eric Parmes said he already figures he will be paying $600 or more for his annual tax bill.
"We can't afford this," he said. "You wonder why people do not want to stay in town … because you're running people out of town."
A few other speakers, like David Hayes, chided the council's decision to bond $1.1 million for the fund balance.
"You do not bond for day-to-day expenses," he said. "It's a road to disaster."
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, however, pointed out that the bonded money is part of the overall plan that has led to upgrades from bond rating agencies Standard & Poor's and Fitch. Bond ratings affect interest rates on long-term borrowing.
The bonding, which narrowly passed in a 4-3 council vote, is the focus of a circulating petition calling for a referendum, according to Marie Freiss-McSparran, a former City Council member who was collecting signatures at Wednesday's meeting.
Freiss-McSparran said that while many property values went down, "because of what's going on in the city," most businesses will experience tax increases.
She said there are enough frustrated taxpayers that preparations also are underway to petition the proposed budget to a referendum vote.
The mayor said he was pleased with the City Council's work on the budget, but not totally in agreement with changes to his proposal, which called for about $2 million more in spending - including funding for 14 police officers and 12 new Public Works positions.
Included in the council's budget is funding for three new police officers, the number of new hires the department can handle in a year. The council previously had adopted an ordinance requiring a minimum staffing level of 80 sworn officers. They will still be 11 short of that mark.
Finizio said he would sign the budget as proposed but warned that the city would have to continue the process of rebuilding its departments.
The City Council is expected to hold a final vote on the budget on May 27.