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In budget hearing, New London residents push for less police funding

New London — All 10 people who provided testimony on Mayor Michael Passero's $96.3 million budget proposal for 2021-22 voiced support for reallocating funding from the police department to areas such as education, mental health services and recreation.

The New London City Council held a public hearing via Zoom on Thursday night, lasting a half-hour. Some people provided written comments beforehand, which council members read, while others spoke during the meeting.

Some specifically referenced support for the People's Budget. The activist group Hearing Youth Voices formed the New London People's Budget Coalition, which is advocating for a 35% reduction in the police budget.

"Increasing police budgets is NOT an investment in the young people's future," Aly Maderson Quinlog wrote. "It is not a responsible, nor ethical use of funds that could support Education, Public Services and the Arts which are PROVEN investments in the future of New London's youth and the City itself."

Quinlog supports diverting police funds to the recreation department, senior center, human services, library, public works and schools. CJ Parker wrote that whether it's data, lived experience, morality or the wants and needs of constituents, everything points in the direction of significantly increasing funding to these areas.

Debbie Phillips recalled that every time she has made a 911 call to request police participation for people suffering from mental health crises, "we managed to avert and avoid making a mental health crisis worse by having an arrest made." But she said others aren't as fortunate, which is why she wants a reduction in the police budget to employ peer navigators, or social workers, to accompany officers responding to crisis intervention 911 calls.

She wrote that a reduction to the police budget "is necessary to address the changing times and needs, and to possibly slow down, halt or even eliminate the cradle to prison pipeline that has faced many Black people, especially black boys and men."

Passero's budget proposal, which he presented to the City Council on April 1, includes $44.5 million for education and a $51.8 million general government budget. The $12.28 million proposed for police, a 0.95% increase, is the largest share of the latter.

Finance Director David McBride said last month the budget would drop the mill rate by 0.24 mill, to 37.95 mills.

On Thursday night, Danny Spurr questioned the idea of lowering property taxes to help marginalized people. "It just seems like a trickle-down economics sort of idea, whereas I think taxing cars and things like that is very regressive," he said. He also said that in fighting systemic racism, he thinks "this is more of a status quo budget, and I worry that we're just doing window dressing around this issue."

Kris Wraight said police don't make her feel safe, but what would make her feel safe is knowing her neighbors can afford to pay rent and feed their families, and knowing "we stop at nothing to give New London youth public schools that cherish them."

In response to the public hearing comments, Passero told The Day, "I believe that if I was to cut the police budget by 35%, which is what they're asking for, that would be counterproductive to the goals that they want to achieve, and also I believe that it's not a zero-sum game. We don't have to cut the police budget in order to provide more funding for human services."

He said his goal is to increase the tax base to have more revenue for education, human services and youth services.

Passero noted his budget puts an extra $200,000 in the human services department, in addition to $100,000 to establish a full-time equity and inclusion position. The mayor believes this will be a "transformative" position, saying that between working on home ownership, job opportunities and hiring initiatives to diversify the city workforce, there is plenty to be done in this role.

Passero also noted his proposal would increase the city taxpayer-funded portion of the education budget 2.25%, but more than half of the education budget comes from the state and federal governments.

e.moser@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version clarifies that funding for the equity position is in addition to the increase for human services.

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