Finance Committee approves a trimmed New London budget

New London — In front of a standing-room-only crowd in City Council chambers Tuesday evening, City Councilor Michael Passero read off more than 50 line items of the mayor’s proposed budget that, he said, could be cut to trim the city budget by a total of more than $3.1 million.

The other members of the council’s Finance Committee apparently agreed, and the committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full City Council adopt Passero’s amended city budget of $87,177,299 when it meets on Thursday.

Passero’s amended budget includes $2,748,752 in cuts from the general government budget, which he said was realized largely by eliminating funding for any city job that is currently vacant.

Also included in the cuts is at least $60,000 in planned raises for city administration officials, one third of the funding the city provides for the Meals on Wheels program, and all the funding for the city’s Film Commission and its Cruise Ship Task Force, Passero said.

Though the cuts eliminated vacant positions, Passero said his amended budget would not require any layoffs from city departments.

“The reason I went through line item by line item to make these cuts was to make sure that there can’t be any argument whether we’re budgeting the money necessary to support the positions that are currently occupied,” he said.

Council President Rev. Wade A. Hyslop and Councilor Erica Richardson both thanked Passero for his work to identify the cuts and voted to recommend them to the full council.

“These were some tough cuts, but I do agree that we have vacancies, and we shouldn’t be funding them if we can’t fill them, so that is sort of easy money to find throughout the budget,” Richardson said. “All of the cuts were fair in the tough economic times we have right now. There is nothing else we could try to do but to cut as much fat off of this budget as possible, but the budget really didn’t have a lot of fat included in it.”

The reductions approved by the Finance Committee included cuts in funding for health insurance, which Finance Director Jeff Smith said may not be possible.

“A lot of these cuts, I think, the city can probably live with. But I am concerned and I would definitely want us to go back and look at some of the cuts to things like health insurance,” Smith said, adding that the mayor’s proposed budget accounted for a 5 percent increase in health insurance costs while the true increase may be 7 percent. “So rather than cutting (health insurance) I think we actually have to add money.”

Passero also eliminated $440,000 from the education budget, though the Board of Education will be tasked with identifying the specific accounts from which that money can be cut.

The amended budget approved by the Finance Committee on Tuesday includes $43,895,019 in spending on the general government side — which represents a decrease of $120,512 over the current year’s budget — and $43,282,280 in spending on the Board of Education side — an increase of $2,026,574 over the current budget.

The full City Council will debate the budget and possibly vote to adopt a spending plan at a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

Before Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting, about 25 city residents seeking to “axe the tax,” converged outside City Hall with cardboard and tin foil hatchets in some of their hands to protest the mayor’s proposed budget and the 12.5 percent tax rate increase that it would necessitate.

Organized in part by Looking Out for Taxpayers and Citizens on Patrol, the taxpayers held signs and chanted “axe the tax” as city councilors and administration officials arrived for the meeting.

Last month, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio presented his proposed $90.37 million budget for fiscal year 2015-16, representing $46.6 million for general government and $43.7 million for the Board of Education.

Finizio was not at Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting and Chief Administrative Officer Laura Natusch said the mayor would have no immediate response to the committee’s actions.

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

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