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Mayor, council set goal of 5 percent tax increase

New London — The mayor and City Council president, who have been at odds for months, announced Wednesday a joint plan to trim just under $1.3 million from the budget that voters resoundingly rejected Tuesday

"The administration and the council have the same conception on how to move forward,'' said Council President Michael Passero, who met with Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio on Wednesday.

"We are going to cooperate and respect the will of the voters and proceed with a budget that is acceptable,'' Finizio said.

They agreed to adjust the budget to get to a 5 percent tax increase, which means reducing the $42.3 general government budget by nearly $1,265,000. The tax rate, which would have increased by 1.91 mills to support the $42.3 million budget, instead would go up by about 1 mill.

At Tuesday's referendum, voters rejected the budget, which required a 7.5 percent tax increase. The vote was 1,436 to 1,007. They also rejected a new tax rate of 27.22 mills, 1,470 to 963.

Passero, who also is chairman of the Finance Committee, has called for a Finance Committee meeting for 5 tonight to hear from the public.

"Our marching orders are to cut more,'' he said Wednesday. "We might not find it all on Thursday but we'll start."

The first item on the agenda, he said, is public comment. Finance Committee meetings also are scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.

During the joint announcement in City Hall Wednesday afternoon, Finizio said he intends to present a new budget to the council with a $280,000 reduction, an amount equal to what the city had set aside for the consolidation of the school and city finance departments. That merger will not take place this year.

Passero said another $500,000 may be saved when the city refinances its debt. The finance board will look throughout the budget for another $400,000 in savings. Finizio said department heads are combing their budgets and will have suggestions for savings.

Both men said they do not intend to cut services or lay off workers. But Finizio added that if the city runs into a deficit as the year progresses, further cuts may be needed.

"This is a cooperative process to reach a resolution,'' Finizio said. "The public wants to see the two branches of government working together and unified behind this budget."

Finizio and Passero have disagreed often as the city has settled into the new strong mayor form of government. On Tuesday, before ballots were tallied, Finizio said he had not with Passero since April. Passero refused to discuss when they last met.

The latest disagreement was over who would start the process of developing a new budget, if it were defeated. Finizio had said a new budget process would have to start with him and could take months to complete. Passero had said the council would start immediately on cutting the budget and did not need a new document from the mayor. The city attorney agreed with Finizio's interpretation of the City Charter.

But Wednesday, the heads of the city's two branches of government agreed to work together to get a new budget passed.

"We want to reach a resolution and do it quickly,'' Passero said.

Just under 19 percent of the city's 13,122 registered voters cast ballots on Tuesday. All three precincts, as well as the absentee ballots, defeated the budget.

Evelyn Louziotis, one of those who successfully rallied voters to reject the 2012-13 budget woke up satisfied Wednesday.

"What? It's a beautiful day. The sun's out. What do you want me to say? The people have spoken and we go from there,'' she said.

Louziotis is a member of Looking out for Taxpayers, the group that helped obtain the more than 600 signatures needed to force Tuesday's vote.

William Vogel, chairman of the Republican Town Committee, which also was instrumental in getting out the "no" vote, said Republicans, Democrats and independents were opposed to the budget.

"The mayor kept saying he had the votes,'' Vogel said. "But I think he learned something about New London. New London is the kind of place that is not going to accept a large tax increase."

Councilor Adam Sprecace, a member of the Finance Committee, initially voted for the budget but urged residents to vote no at the referendum because, he said, the administration had not provided all the information he needed to make an informed decision.

Late Monday night, Finizio released pages and pages of budget documents that Sprecace had requested. Sprecace acknowledged that he had seen most of the information at the beginning of the budget process but wanted updated documents.

Tuesday night, he said he found some places were the council had reduced line items but the updated figures were not reflected in the documents. For example, he said, the council reduced funding for the Water Street Parking Garage and Ocean Beach Park by about $100,000, but that was not reflected in the documents. He said it appears that several salaries for police officers who have left the department are also listed on the budget, which could be a savings.

"I'm happy they released all the information,'' Sprecace said. "I would have been happier if it was released sooner."


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