New London mayoral rivals clash on police funding

New London - Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and his Democratic challenger, Councilor Michael Passero, traded barbs last week in emails to the City Council as debate continues over where to obtain the $425,000 still needed to fund a new police contract.

Finizio continues to urge the council to move the money from a special contingency account - which currently contains about $586,000 - to cover costs associated with the new three-year police contract. The council approved the contract on Oct. 6.

That account, Passero argues, was set up by the council with a specific purpose and includes funding for four new police positions to further the goal of boosting the ranks of the department to 80 officers, a mandate set by the council. The department now has about 64 officers and has been on the decline for five years.

"The Council should not be bullied into acceding to the mayor's demand that it abandon its goals of increased police department staffing," Passero wrote in an email to the council.

He argues that the city finance department does not appear to have enough information - or has not provided the information to the council - to show any alternative funding source, such as budgeted but unfilled positions.

Finizio said the council has enough updated information to make an informed decision and Passero's claims of the city hiding information is "totally false and pure political gamesmanship."

Finizio, who said increasing manpower on the police force is a priority, said money for new hires has so far come from budgeted but vacant positions within the police department. Three recruits are now at the state police academy. A recent retirement at the department will help fund two recruits' attendance at the academy in the spring, Finizio said.

"I can hire someone to fill vacated positions but if I fill every one and the contract is not budgeted for, I'll be in a deficit," Finizio said. "Until that (transfer) is complete, the budget in that department is not going to be in balance."

Additionally, Finizio said, the lack of funding has hindered his ability to seek lateral transfers to the department, a faster and usually cheaper way to get an officer to work.

"The brave men and women of our police department risk their lives to protect our City, and they deserve better than to be treated as political pawns," Finizio wrote in an email to the council. "To continue to deny funding for the contract is unconscionable."

Passero took issue with the statement, calling Finizio's arguments "self-serving" and political in nature.

"The mayor's professed support for the police department is belied by the fact that he has failed, for fully half the fiscal year, to begin the process of increasing police department staffing as authorized by the Council," Passero shot back.

Passero said the rate of hiring has fallen behind the attrition rate as the department continues to shrink. Even without council approval of the transfer, he said money to fund the contact eventually would have to come from the general fund.

Local union president Todd Lynch said aside from funding for the contract, the "union's standpoint has been and continues to be the hiring of new officers to decrease the strain on the people left here is the number one priority."

"I'm not an expert on which way it's going to happen. Whatever is the better way to hire new officers, that's what we support," Lynch said.

Lynch said union membership has been caught in the middle of political and financial debates all too often and if "that contingency fund is to hire policemen, hire more policemen. Don't use it somewhere else."

The proposed transfer is on the council's agenda for its Monday meeting.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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