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New Londoners can expect tax cut in approved budget

New London — The City Council on Wednesday passed a $94.48 million budget for fiscal year 2020-21 with a modest 1% increase in both government and education spending that provides a 4.48% property tax cut.

Passage of the budget came with a pledge from councilors to strengthen communication with the Board of Education, along with a push for better transparency. The budget contains $50.46 million for general government and $44.02 million in education spending. It is an overall $935,516 increase in spending from the current budget — a $499,657 increase in general government spending and a $435,859 in education spending. 

The school board is receiving more than $760,000 less than it had requested toward its proposed $72.1 million budget. The board had requested $44.78 million from the city, a 2.7% increase over the current budget but would have required a 5.7% increase in taxpayer funding based on projections in state education aid. The city's contribution to the education budget is jointly funded by taxes and the state's education cost sharing program.

The city side of the budget contains $12.16 million for police, $9.3 million for fire and $6.76 million for public works, the city’s three largest departments.

The tax rate will drop 1.71 mills to 38.19 mills under the spending plan and provide, as one example, a $177 decrease in yearly taxes for the owner of a single-family home assessed at $109,830 and paying $4,194 in annual taxes, city finance department figures show.

The budget is the product of weeks of deliberations and alterations by the council, along with a final $440,288 reduction from the Board of Finance in response to concerns over a projected loss of revenue associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Councilor James Burke cast the lone dissenting vote on each of the budgets and argued for a boost in education spending, which he said could be achieved with a slightly lower tax rate cut.

Burke said he recognized “a legacy of hard work” by Mayor Michael Passero’s administration and previous councils to grow the grand list and a healthy contingency fund.

“However, at this time of global crisis it is more critical than ever that we bolster public services,” Burke said. “We need to do everything we can for our students, our teachers, our public safety officials, our sanitation workers and every one of our neighbors in the Whaling City to provide excellent public services throughout these trying times.”

Council President Pro Tempore Alma Nartatez said city residents for too long have struggled under an “alarming mill rate,” and argued the budget and associated tax cut was appropriate.

“We are in a pandemic. Things are tough right now,” she said.

Nartatez also said the council would look for a more transparent school budget, a way for the public to better understand where their money is being spent. The school board has come under some criticism as of late for a perceived lack of detail in its budget, for instance not providing salaries for individual employees.

“We still have a lot of work to do on the Board of Ed side with transparency. It isn’t about just giving more money. It’s about streamlining the process, making it more transparent and increasing communication between the Board of Education and the government side,” Nartatez said. “We’re not going to get there overnight. I am very confident that with this team, this council, that we’re going to improve that.”

g.smith@theday.com

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