New London council restores $1 million to school budget

New London — The City Council voted 6-1 Monday to rescind last week’s education budget vote and restore the $1 million it had cut on the recommendation of the finance board.

The council vote came during a special meeting where school supporters, school board members and the school superintendent filled the city council chambers and made emotional pleas to restore the funds while highlighting the progress of the schools or the positive impact on their children.

“I’m proud to raise my family in New London and I promise I’m not the only one here who feels it’s about time our appointed and elected officials actively show that same pride,” said Alisha Blake, a mother of three.

A similar show of support and concern for the progress of the magnet school district was on display during a news conference at the high school last week.

“When people say New London is not moving forward, I say, ‘You’re lying,’” said local teachers’ union president Rich Baez. “We’re moving a lot faster than people give us credit for. We’re not the New London of 10 years ago. We’re the New London of the future.”

Some councilors said they had been uncomfortable with last week’s cut but could not add back funds that the Board of Finance had taken away at a prior meeting. A legal opinion on the finance board vote, however, had changed things.

City Attorney Jeffrey Londregan on Friday issued a memorandum calling the May 15 Board of Finance vote invalid. While the five-member finance board had a quorum of three members present, just two members — Stephanie Brown and Peter Bergeron — voted to cut the education budget from $41.7 million to $40.7 million. Member Lonnie Braxton had abstained from the vote.

Londregan ruled that by charter any action by the finance board requires a minimum of three "yes" votes. 

All three finance board members voted to cut $750,000 from the city government budget. The City Council subsequently approved that cut, dropping the proposed city government budget to $48.3 million.

Mayor Michael Passero, as a result of that cut, issued a recommendation to the council Monday that included the elimination of three city positions and a drastic drop in budgeted overtime as part of his larger budget-trimming effort.

The positions to be lost include the deputy city clerk, senior accountant in the finance department and a manager in the public works department. The finance department would take the single biggest hit in the proposed cuts, with a $91,562 accounting position and $163,270 overall.

The city clerk’s office would lose a $52,000 salaried position and $73,830 overall. Public works would lay off a $67,980 position and sustain a cut of $95,320.

The mayor proposed elimination of more than $200,000 in overtime costs including $69,320 from the police department, $53,400 in building maintenance, $19,140 from the parks department, $27,500 from the solid waste department and $11,100 from the highway department.

“While these cuts represent considerable pain to a number of our departments, the goal was to preserve city services to the greatest extent possible and to maintain the positive momentum that the city has been experiencing over the past year,” Passero said in a letter to the council. “We will again be asking our employees to do more with less.”

The council on Monday was expected to examine Passero’s recommendations and make some of their own.

Both the general government and education budgets still need final approval, which would occur at the third reading of the budget, before a tax rate is set. The third reading will come during a council meeting before the end of the month. While Passero's initial budget proposal would have raised the tax rate by more than 6 mills, the proposal as it stands will raise taxes by less than 4 mills.

Councilor John Satti was the lone vote against restoration of the $1 million to the education budget.

g.smith@theday.com

 

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