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Norwich City Council debates, adopts preliminary budget

Norwich — The City Council budget deliberations quickly turned into a politically partisan debate Monday, with Democrats objecting to a Republican request to ask the city manager to try to cut his proposed budget by 3%, or more than $4 million.

The Republicans' request came shortly after they proposed adding $72,000 to the budget.

The tone of the discussion abruptly reversed, however, when freshman Democratic Alderwoman Ella Myles proposed a compromise by simply asking the city manager to seek possible cuts or alternative revenue sources to offset the proposed 1.5% tax increase in the proposed budget.

Democrats called the request that City Manager John Salomone find $4 million in cuts to his proposed budget “hypocritical” and “political theater,” saying it’s the council’s duty to deliberate on the budget after the city manager presents it. Republicans countered that they were just looking out for the taxpayers, who have faced job losses and personal losses during the pandemic.

Prior to the debate, the council voted 4-3 with little comment to approve a $138.2 million preliminary combined city and school budget, with four majority Democrats in support, and the three Republicans against.

A public hearing will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 10, on the budget.

The council voted unanimously to approve a Democratic resolution to cut $500,000 from the capital contingency budget, and unanimously to support a Republican proposal to add $72,544 to add a full-time clerk to the city clerk’s office.

Then Democrats strongly objected to the Republicans’ effort to ask Salomone to find nearly $4.2 million in more cuts from the budget. Democratic Alderman Joseph DeLucia called it “irresponsible” and said the city manager already presented the council with his top priorities for city spending and the school budget total.

“I kind of look at this to some extent as political theater. It’s certainly hypocritical based on the previous resolution,” Democratic Council President Pro Tempore Mark Bettencourt said, referring to the Republican proposal to add one staff member.

Bettencourt and Alderman Derell Wilson challenged Republicans to come up with specific proposed cuts and “put them on the table” in public.

Republicans countered that there is nothing wrong with asking the city’s financial experts to try to find ways to cut the budget and find alternative revenue sources.

“I take offense to the fact that I’m being called hypocritical. I take offense to the fact that you’re calling this political theater,” veteran Republican Alderman William Nash said.

Nash said he would not support cutting the proposed $86.3 million school budget but found nothing wrong with asking for some ways to save the taxpayers “a few cents here and there.”

Alderwoman Myles halted the debate and rancor by proposing to strike the request for 3% cuts, instead simply asking the city manager to seek cuts or alternative revenue sources. The council recessed briefly for party caucuses, and emerged with unanimous support for the revised resolution.

Nash thanked Myles for her “quick thinking” that within 10 minutes lowered the tense atmosphere in the Council Chambers “from a nine to a three.”

“We all have the same mission in mind,” Nash said, “the same goal.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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