New London budget advances with some debate

New London — The City Council on Monday night passed a second reading of the budget without any changes, despite an hourlong discussion about the roles the council and city administration should play in budget management.

The council and Finance Director Jeff Smith discussed how much latitude the city administration and department heads should have when it comes to moving money between line items in department budgets.

One example given was the $500,000 set aside in the current budget to pay for six months of salary for six new police officers. The money was not used to hire new officers but rather to pay overtime to current officers who worked extra hours to make up for the lower staffing level.

"If we allocate money to be used for a specific position, then that's what the money needs to be used for," Councilor Anthony Nolan said. "We need to control what the monies are used for and when it's used because obviously it continues to be spent."

Councilor Michael Passero, who ultimately approved the budget's second reading, said he would need to know that the council will have control over the city's purse strings before he supports a third and final reading of the budget.

"I would like to have some assurance in this budget that the way we're laying this money out and the line items we're laying it out in, especially when it comes to personnel, I want some assurance that that is where the money is going to be spent," Passero said. "If it's not spent for the purpose we put it in there to be spent for, it should not be spent."

The debate at times shifted into a philosophical discussion about the functions of the City Council and the administration under the new strong mayor form of government.

The council is "supposed to be setting the policy, that is our job collectively," Councilor Martin T. Olsen said. "And it is the administration's job to adhere to that. We're at a little bit of loggerheads here."

The proposed 2014-15 budget of $85,285,812 in expenditures represents a roughly 5 percent increase over the current budget and would necessitate a tax rate increase of 10.5 mills, raising the city's tax rate to 38 mills.

The budget includes $44 million for general government spending and $41.3 million for education. The education budget was passed unanimously without any discussion as part of the council's consent agenda.

But the general government portion of the budget, which includes a 10 percent increase in city spending, sparked the debate, which became heated at some points.

Ultimately, the second reading passed 5-1 with Olsen, who said he would have "a difficult time" supporting a budget with a 10 percent spending increase, dissenting. Councilor Erica Richardson was absent from Monday's meeting.

The council must pass a third and final reading of the budget by May 30. Council President Wade A. Hyslop said Monday a meeting would be scheduled for next Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

c.young@theday.com

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