New London taxpayer group: Put bonding decision to vote

New London — Citizens upset with the City Council's vote last month to authorize the bonding of $1.1 million have filed a referendum petition with the city clerk's office, seeking to bring the council's decision to a public vote.

When representatives of Looking Out for Taxpayers (LOT) filed the petition to the clerk's office on Wednesday, it had 260 verified signatures - almost 40 shy of the 298 needed to hold a vote on the bonding.

On Thursday, the group filed an additional set of signatures with acting City Clerk Dawn E. Currier, who now has five days verifying that the signatures are those of registered city voters.

"If we have enough signatures, people will be able go to the polls and say if they want another bond or not," said Bill Cornish, a LOT member who helped organize the signature gathering.

Cornish said he does not know how many additional signatures were submitted to the clerk's office on Thursday.

The people who signed the petition, Cornish said, are generally upset that the city would add $1.1 million of debt to address cash flow problems.

"We are a town with a great amount of debt and we have a lot of things the city has to do, but we also know the costs of this ultimately fall on real estate taxpayers," he said.

On April 30, the City Council voted 4-1 to approve the bonding of $1.1 million to bolster the city's feeble fund balance, the account that can act almost as overdraft protection for the city's general fund. Two councilors were absent from the meeting but had previously voted against the bonding.

By bonding the $1.1 million, city officials said, the city will be able to replace money it took from its fund balance going back about a decade, when capital projects such as roadway improvements ran over budget.

Over the course of April, the City Council passed a four-step fund balance replacement plan that involved sanctioning the bonding of a total of $5.5 million and adopting resolutions that require it to budget at least $250,000 in each upcoming fiscal year for fund balance replacement and mandate that proceeds from the sale of city-owned real estate go into the fund balance.

Jeff Smith, the city finance director, said the plan passed by the council was a substantial part of why Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's both recently re-affirmed the city's A+ rating.

"What we were able to show them is that we have a plan and we've taken steps to address the issues with our fund balance," Smith said earlier this month.

Fitch noted its favorable view of the city's plan in its rating but also warned that "any reversal in this plan could result in negative rating pressure."

c.young@theday.com

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