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New London — The City Council approved the 2014-15 budget for the third and final time Tuesday night, but not before positioning itself to exert greater oversight of the budget during the course of the fiscal year.
Before the council approved the general government budget of $44,030,106, Councilor Michael Passero introduced an amendment that requires city departments to get approval from the council before transferring any money between line items in their budgets.
"It locks in the money for each department to the specific line items that we've used to build (the budget)," Passero said. "If we were to pass the ordinance just as it is, these are just large sums of money ... and they're not held to use it in any particular way."
In essence, Passero's amendment sets in stone the amount of money budgeted for each item in each department's budget, rather than the bottom line dollar amount for each department. Any changes to the line items must be approved by the council.
The amendment passed 4-3 with Council President Wade A. Hyslop, Councilor Efrain Dominguez and Councilor Erica Richardson dissenting.
Richardson said she worries that the amendment will create unnecessary gridlock and limit the department heads' ability to manage their departments.
"I feel like this amendment is a little bit more in the line of micro-managing the departments," Richardson said. The department heads "are the experts in their departments. They need to be allowed to take money in any of their line items to operate their department."
Councilor Anthony Nolan said he supported Passero's amendment because it "is going to open the door for a lot of transparency."
"We will see where money is and where money is going," he said.
The general government budget, with Passero's amendment added to it, passed 5-2 with Richardson and Councilor Martin T. Olsen voting in opposition. Richardson said her "no" vote was in protest of the Passero amendment. Olsen, who had voted against the previous readings of the budget, said he could not support a budget with a nearly 10 percent increase in city spending.
After the budget passed, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said he expects to sign the budget as adopted when it is presented to him.
"I welcome the opportunity for greater transparency in the budget," he said, adding that no funds have moved from one department to another during his administration without council approval. "If council desires to see why $5 that should have been spent on postage is being spent on envelopes, I have no objection if they're willing to spend the time."
The education budget of $41,255,706 passed unanimously. Passero's amendment does not apply to the education budget. The Board of Education, not the City Council, has oversight of specific line items within the school budget.
In total, the city's $85.3 million budget will necessitate a tax rate of 38 mills, an increase of 10.5 mills.
Under the budget passed Tuesday night, the public works department will see an increase of $661,652 over the current budget, the greatest increase of any city department. The police and fire departments will see the second and third greatest increases, of $554,499 and $323,324, respectively.