Residents petition New London budget, call for referendum

New London — Unsatisfied with the city’s spending habits and a new pay-as-you-throw trash removal program proposal, hundreds of people have signed a petition asking that the $49.86 million general government budget go to a citywide referendum vote.

The petition was submitted to City Clerk Jonathan Ayala hours before Thursday’s deadline and contained about 400 signatures gathered through work of a petitioning committee spearheaded by the Republican Town Committee and Neighborhood Alliance.

About 310 signatures, or 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last election, are needed to certify the petition and force the City Council into some type of action.

Negotiations between the petitioning committee and school board members halted the submission of a petition for the school budget. The school district on Thursday afternoon released on its website financial data which school board Finance Committee Chairman Jefferey Hart described as a document containing accounts payable information.

Hart said he has heard a steady stream of criticism from city Republicans about the perceived lack of transparency in the school budget. The release of the financial data, he said, was a step toward gaining trust with the public and the critics, as well as avoiding more budget strife.

Hart was on hand at City Hall to ensure the school budget petition was not submitted, as had been promised.

Republican Karen Paul, a member of the petitioning committee, issued a joint statement from the committee calling the school board’s move a demonstration of “a sincere willingness to provide meaningful and full transparency to the citizens and taxpayers of New London.”

“These actions and fiscal disclosures today by the Board of Education and New London Public Schools are only the beginning and represent unprecedented progress, setting the tone to end decades of budget secrecy and begins a new chapter of cooperation, clarity and true transparency between New London Public Schools, the Board of Education and the community.”

“This is how it is supposed to work in a community. People coming together to talk issues through and come to common ground,” the statements reads.

Rob Pero, chairman of the Republican Town Committee, said Republicans were dissatisfied with the “poor public policy” on display when the City Council voted on a budget that implemented measures to move forward the new trash-removal program.

Specifically, Pero said the approved budget contains revenues from purchase of bags mandated in the program and funding toward a fleet of new trash-removal vehicles.

He said the city has been less than upfront with citizens about implementation of a program opposed by many residents. Pero said there is also still some bitterness over the City Council’s inaction on a similar budget petition last year that never did lead to a referendum.

Pero said the Republican Town Committee took no formal stance on the school budget in part because of a productive recent meeting with incoming school Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie.

Jay Wheeler, chairman of the Neighborhood Alliance, said he felt there was inappropriate spending on both city and education sides of the budget.

“We just want the council to look at what they’re spending our taxpayer dollars on. Is it the best use of our money?” he said.

Wheeler said from his point of view, the city needed to act on consolidating information technology and finance departments rather than cutting services to seniors.

“I want citywide taxpayers to be able to go to the polls to be able to vote ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’ If they vote ‘no,’ my expectation is to work with the City Council to find ways to do prudent cuts and consolidations and be more fiscally prudent with the taxpayer money. It’s not to hurt everybody,” he said.

City Council Chairman Anthony Nolan said he only learned of the petition on Thursday but expected to hear more from residents about the reasons.

“If enough people signed it, that’s enough for me to say let’s have some open discussion,” Nolan said.

Ayala said he would work to verify signatures and expects to have final word within the next 10 business days.


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