New London approves $102M city and school budget with tax rate expected to drop
New London ― The City Council on Tuesday approved the $102 million city and school budget for 2023-24 as some members of the public made a final plea for changes.
Members and supporters of the People’s Budget Coalition spoke at multiple city meetings this budget season and asked that the budget reflect the needs they see in the community.
The coalition this year asked the city to increase the youth service allocation by $250,000, use an additional $1.3 million from the city’s fund balance for education, add $500,000 to the Human Services Department and $500,000 to city public works.
Wearing green clothing as a sign of solidarity, coalition supporters made their final attempt Tuesday to change the budget. Several spoke during public comment and repeated their frustrations about rising rents, what they described as gentrification in the city, educational and mental health needs and the insufficient number of public works staff.
Coalition founder Maya Sheppard, the executive director of Hearing Youth Voices, reminded city officials that they are up for reelection this year and voters would remember the actions they took on the budget.
“They did exactly what we thought they were going to do, not change anything,” said Regina Mosley, a coalition organizer and former school board member.
Little changes were made to the budget after it was first proposed by Mayor Michael Passero in April other than the reallocation of funds by the council to the registrar of voters to add a fourth polling station, along with additional costs for training and equipment.
Councilor John Satti previously made an attempt to increase the public works budget by $200,000, and Vice President Pro Temp James Burke sought to increase the education budget by $500,000 but both amendments failed.
The council on Tuesday unanimously approved a budget with $56.2 million in city government spending, a $2.7 million increase. The recreation and youth affairs department, the Human Services Department and public works are set to receive increases of between 5.9% to 11.8%.
In a 6-1 vote, the council approved $45.9 million in education funding, an increase of $727,650 with Burke casting the lone opposition vote. Because state education funding remains unchanged, the increase in the taxpayer-funded portion of the education budget is up by 5%.
Because of an increase to the city’s grand list of taxable properties, the tax rate is expected to drop to 37.15 mills, a .07-mill decrease from the current rate.
Passero on Wednesday said he has received positive feedback about the budget and the city is on sound financial footing.
“I’m confident this budget will keep our city fiscally sound and continue to spur continued strong economic growth,” he said.
Burke said he hoped there would have been compromises made on the budget but there was not a lot of wiggle room. With inflation the way it is, he said it was a tough year.
City Council President Reona Dyess encouraged the public to make sure they are educated about the budget, which is accessible on the city website. She said the combined budget has increased over the years and items have been added such as the birth to 8 child care center in partnership with the Board of Education.
Councilor Efrain Dominguez said he sees the public’s passion and wants to work with them. He said conversations surrounding the budget should start at the beginning of the budgeting process in the fall.
“We want a city that communicates,” said Dominguez.
Alicia McAvay, the executive director for FRESH New London and a coalition organizer, said although she is disappointed about this year’s outcome, the coalition will remain involved in future conversations about the changes it wants to see.