Norwich mayoral candidate defends claims of budget cuts

Norwich — Republican candidate fliers, radio ads and debates all have centered on the same set of numbers: a claim of a 5 percent, $5.1 million, 3.2-mill decrease in the city budget this year.

Yet, Democratic candidates have countered that the budget actually went up overall and that taxes went down by less than a mill. The overall city budget of $123.8 million shows a spending increase of $843,444, or 0.69 percent over last year’s budget total.

Republican mayoral candidate Peter Nystrom, current council president pro-tempore, said the savings are real, but not obviously visible in the budget. They came in the form of avoided spending and what would have been a 3.2-mill tax increase if City Manager John Salomone’s proposed budget had been adopted.

During the spring budget deliberations, the current Republican-controlled council asked for a 5 percent spending reduction from the 2016-17 budget of $122.9 million. Salomone’s proposed 2017-18 budget, including a $10 million increase in special education costs, totaled $128.9 million prior to council adjustments, according to figures provided by the city finance department.

The City Council in May and June made numerous spending cuts listed in three exhibits, including reducing the education budget from Salomone’s recommended 3 percent, $2.3 million, increase to a 1 percent increase, $754,300 over last year. The council also eliminated several city positions, including a recycling coordinator, an assistant human resources director, two police officers and a Public Works Department foreman and laborer and a Human Services case manager, and cut $63,000 from the Otis Library budget.

Nystrom said contractual obligations and fixed-cost increases prevented the budget from being reduced further, which is one reason the council insisted on the May and June cuts to provide relief to taxpayers.

“Had we not passed that, the budget would be $5.1 million higher,” Nystrom said.

The total $5.1 million cut in June included $1.7 million removed from the proposed capital improvements budget, cutting it from 4 percent of the overall budget to the charter minimum requirement of 2 percent. Part of that cut was $1 million to purchase fire apparatuses to replace an unspecified number of aging fire vehicles. Instead, the council agreed to put $3.2 million for the purchase of five firetrucks into a referendum bond question. A second referendum question will ask voters if they support $5 million for road paving, drainage and bridge work and sidewalks.

Democratic council candidate Zato Kadambaya criticized the capital cuts during one debate, saying Republicans claimed a $5 million cut while putting $8.2 million for firetrucks and road paving into referendum questions.

“Why did you put it in a referendum, when it should be in the budget?” Kadambaya said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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