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Norwich City Council covers school budget deficit but doesn't want to do it again

Norwich — City Council members this week said they were pleased that the public school system was able to cut the 2019-20 projected deficit from some $4.5 million to $750,000 by year’s end, and that savings from other city departments covered the shortfall.

The council agreed on Tuesday to transfer funds saved from several city departments to cover the final school budget deficit of $750,000 without needing to draw down the city’s undesignated surplus fund. But they warned that this was just a one-time solution, and big savings in city departments cannot be expected again to cover school budget deficits.

Aldermen Derell Wilson and Mark Bettencourt commended school and city leaders for working together on budget issues more than ever to cut down expenses and increase shared services, such as financial accounting software and payroll functions. School officials also cited significant savings from the COVID-19 shutdown of school buildings from March through June.

“The COVID-19 has helped this deficit shrink," Wilson said. "They are still to be commended for doing their part in making sure that everything was accounted for. Thank you to both, and all the departments as well who did their part to stay within their budgets during the 2019-20 budget year."

Bettencourt pointed to drastic cuts in police overtime and the lack of snow last winter for savings of $230,000 in the 2019-20 police budget and $220,000 in the Public Works Department budget. He echoed Wilson’s comments, saying city and school officials are not “staying in their silos” and are working together more than in the past.

“I’m not jumping up and down for joy that we had to transfer $750,000 to cover the Board of Ed budget shortfall, but it’s a lot better than what it could have been,” Bettencourt said.

Alderman Joseph DeLucia said an ad hoc committee of City Council, school board and city and school officials charged with reviewing the school budget helped foster better understanding of the school budget.

“We made progress,” DeLucia said. “We’re going in the right direction.”

Alderwoman Stacy Gould, council liaison to the Board of Education, commended “the hard work” of City Manager John Salomone and Comptroller Josh Pothier and city department heads for keeping citywide costs down enough to cover the school budget deficit, and said she understands the Board of Education has been working hard to reopen schools through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even with our situation with the pandemic, they have to, have to, have to live within their budget,” Gould said. “We’re not going to have $750,000 next year to transfer, I highly doubt it. Because if we do, we’re giving all of these departments too much money in their budgets, and we have to give that money back to the taxpayers.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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