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New London mayor says proposed budget would drop tax rate

New London — Mayor Michael Passero is proposing a $96.3 million budget that, if left untouched, would slightly drop the city's tax rate.

"I am pleased to report that despite the challenges and extraordinary expenses of the pandemic, the city's financial position is strong," Passero said.

He presented his budget to the City Council on Thursday. It sets into motion a series of council budget deliberations.

The spending plan, a 1.9% increase from the current budget, comprises a $51.8 million general government budget and $44.5 million education budget.

Under the proposal, Finance Director David McBride said the city's mill rate would drop by 0.24 mill, to 37.95 mills, the third consecutive year with a drop in the tax rate.

Passero said his goal since he took office has been to increase revenue while lowering the property tax burden. He said his budget is an attempt to minimize the impact of an inherently unfair and regressive property tax system.

"While our city's annual budget cannot singlehandedly fix the income and wealth inequality that is systemic in our state, we can stop compounding the problem by continuing to alleviate the property tax burden on our residents," he said.

Recent economic growth, Passero said, has allowed the city to fund new initiatives, some of which are focused on police reforms and creating a truly "anti-racist city."

Passero said the city plans to establish an office dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion and will fund an effort coordinated by the Human Services Department to attempt to better utilize mental health professionals and community resources to reduce the need for  police involvement in low-level, nonviolent police calls.

"Recognizing that 40% of our emergency calls for police services are mental health related, our goal is to develop effective connections to more appropriate services and de-escalate behaviors before the criminal justice system has to be engaged," Passero said.

The general government budget is a 2.63% increase from last year's spending and includes modest increases to all of the city's major departments: police, fire and public works. The police department budget, the largest at $12.28 million, has a proposed 0.95% increase. Fire department spending also would increase by 0.95%, to $9.4 million. Public Works would increase from $7.9 million to $8.1 million, a 2.97% increase.

Spending for social services and the senior center would increase by $108,663 to $627,475 — a 20.9% increase.

The proposed education budget represents a 1.1%, or $484,650, increase in funding over the $44 million current budget.

The education portion of the budget is funded jointly by the state Educational Cost Sharing program and taxpayer funds. With ECS funding expected to remain flat at $22.48 million, the proposed increase in school funding is taxpayer supported and represents a 2.25% increase.

in 2020-21, city taxpayers contributed $21.54 million to the education budget. Under the proposed 2021-22 budget, their contribution would increase to more than $22 million. McBride said the increase in education spending is in line with the 2.27% increase in spending for city departmental costs.

Under the plan the city would retain a healthy fund balance at $13.7 million, or 14.5% of the budget.

g.smith@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects that this would be the third consecutive year with a drop in the city's tax rate.

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