Norwich City Council hears emotional pleas to cut and increase the budget
Norwich — Between the first and second City Council budget hearings, the council had cut the proposed citywide tax rate increase by a half mill.
But speakers at Monday’s hearing asked either for increased funding for schools and arts or demanded further cuts to help residents and businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council a week ago approved a preliminary city and school budget total of $138.2 million, with a citywide tax rate of 42.51 mills, an increase of 0.45 mills. Aldermen also anticipate good news from the state budget, including increases in revenues for municipalities.
Former Alderwoman Joanne Philbrick blasted the council for approving a budget that means taxes of nearly 50 mills — a proposed 49 mills — for residents in the central city paid fire district. She implored the council not to allow a budget with “an insurmountable” tax bill.
“Where would you expect me and other senior citizens to get the money to pay these ridiculous taxes? Philbrick asked.
“Please keep in mind that so many people are struggling and continue to struggle,” Philbrick added later during the hearing.
Resident, youth services advocate and Norwich NAACP President Shiela Hayes countered with her own emotional plea that the council support youth and families struggling to get through the pandemic.
Hayes asked the council to approve the initial proposed school budget with a 3.95% increase. The council’s preliminary budget last week included City Manager John Salomone’s suggested $86.3 million school budget total, a 2% increase. Hayes said the school system needs support to help students who have been forced in and out of remote learning due to COVID-19 quarantines.
“It has been a very difficult year for the youth and families of this city,” Hayes said.
She also asked the council to support a request by the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition that 1% of the city’s American Rescue Plan funding be dedicated to local arts organizations. No decisions have been made on the city’s anticipated $21 million American Rescue Plan funding.
Resident Rodney Bowie said one of his neighbors is paying $4,000 in property taxes on a small house. He asked the council to reduce the size of government, even if it means reducing the number of city police officers. He said six officers routinely respond to calls of neighborhood disputes.
“Someday, we have to figure out how to keep taxes low enough so that people will want to stay here in town,” Bowie said. “We have to reduce city government. Do we need so many police?”
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