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The editors of The Day are correct to note that the City Council should proceed with caution in approving a bonding ordinance to satisfy the city's commitment to fund our school district's conversion to an all-magnet regional school district ("Don't rush approval of NL school bonding," June 25).
The editors are wrong, however, in suggesting that the councilors should not vote to approve the current ordinance pending before them.
The ordinance now before council includes numerous legal protections and safeguards that satisfy the concerns raised by both the editors of The Day and by several members of the council.
This ordinance includes provisions that:
1) No bonding shall be done until the finance director, City Council, and the mayor certify that the city has the financial ability to pay the debt service on this bonding. If the council does not have the necessary financial certifications at that time, and if the people of the city have not approved a budget at that time that can sustain the debt service required for this project, then the city cannot legally bond any of the funding authorized by this ordinance. Therefore, approval of this ordinance now is not the last financial approval that will be required of the City Council, or the people of New London.
2) No bonding can legally be done by the city until the city administration and Board of Education agree to a Memorandum of Understanding that provides for the adequate funding of facilities maintenance. The city must be assured we can maintain these new buildings before they are built or no bonding for this project may legally proceed.
3) No bonding can legally proceed until a Memorandum of Understanding is in place to consolidate city and school financial operations. Both the City Council and the Board of Education have already passed resolutions calling for this consolidation, and this initiative has been supported by many frequent petitioners of city and school budgets. Consolidation would bring better efficiency in applying for state reimbursements on these construction projects and provide more efficient budget transparency for all taxpayers.
In short, this vote by the City Council is not even close to the last step in approving this funding. Voting yes does not subject the city to any financial liability at this time. Indeed, no bonding is expected for several years. This ordinance, even if passed by the council, will also likely be petitioned and put to referendum.
The council voting no, however, risks the state re-imbursement rates that we must lock in by June 30. Voting no also jeopardizes the accreditation of New London High School.
It should also be noted that The Day's Editorial Board, as well as some councilors, have suggested it may be more prudent to break the project into several bonding ordinances. This would be shortsighted because Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School is also in critical disrepair. It would be reckless to delay authorizing this bonding and risk raising the cost of repairing Bennie Dover by millions. It could also diminish the effectiveness of an all-magnet conversion by separating these projects and risking the possible exclusion of any pathway from this overall plan.
The council should vote yes and move this forward to a vote of the people. The subsequent referendum campaign, which will last several months, will provide the public a chance to fully vet this proposal. Even if approved at referendum, the council will still need to grant final approvals at a later date, and only after the safeguards in place in this ordinance are fully satisfied.
The short time frame the council was given to move this forward is unfortunate but was unavoidable. Nevertheless, the council needs to act. Failure to do so could cost the city an opportunity to do something that other cities can only dream about. A yes vote, with these safeguards in place, is prudent and responsible; a no vote, at this time, would be a terrible and unnecessary mistake.
Daryl Justin Finizio is the mayor of New London.