NEW BRITAIN - The Common Councilâ€™s Republican caucus held a news conference outside City Hall Thursday afternoon to criticize council Democrats for inaction at Wednesday nightâ€™s budget meeting.
â€śWe stand here today united as a Republican caucus to express our frustration with the Democratic caucus, which has once again decided to delay city business,â€ť said council Minority Leader Robert Smedley, minority leader of the council.
After an hour of public participation, and more than an hour of discussion between caucuses and council leadership, councilors Wednesday voted 9-6 to put off action on the 2018-19 city budget.
Mayor Erin Stewart has called for a special meeting of the council for 1 p.m. Saturday in Council Chambers at City Hall.
Under the City Charter, a budget must be adopted within 60 days of the mayorâ€™s budget proposal, which is Sunday.
The Democratic majority was expected to introduce a revised version of Stewartâ€™s budget Wednesday that would include additional cuts.
But the Democrats did not propose any revisions because, according to Majority Leader Carlo Carlozzi, there was disagreement in the caucus.
â€śWith the Democrats, thereâ€™s a consensus to make cuts in the budget. The major disagreement is whether those funds then go to the Board of Education or to reduce the mill (property tax) rate. Thatâ€™s where thereâ€™s no agreement,â€ť Carlozzi told The Herald after Wednesdayâ€™s meeting.
Smedley said the Democratic caucus doesnâ€™t have the willingness or knowledge to make the right decisions.
â€śWeâ€™re at a point of no-action currently with our city budget because they cannot work as a team to make a decision - clearly highlighting the dysfunction that exists amongst their party,â€ť Smedley said Thursday.
â€śPrior to yesterdayâ€™s council meeting, multiple committee meetings had been scheduled, properly publicly noticed, and held. During these committee meetings, of all the Democratic council members present, not one question was presented or asked to anyone from the mayorâ€™s office, department heads or other council members,â€ť he continued.
Smedley said that, if Democrats had wanted to propose changes to the budget, they should have done so earlier. Smedley said there has been little attempt from members of the Democratic caucus to talk to Republicans about budget changes.
â€śThere simply isnâ€™t enough time to calculate the actual affect said changes would have on city operations,â€ť Smedley said.
Alderman Don Naples brought a stuffed sheep to Thursdayâ€™s news conference. The alderman said the Democratic caucus has been voting like sheep in recent months.
Maybe, he said, there are some independent voices within the caucus who donâ€™t agree with others.
â€śThe reason weâ€™re in a delay is because they couldnâ€™t get the sheep lined up,â€ť Naples said.
After watching the news conference on Facebook, Carlozzi criticized the event.
â€śItâ€™s nothing more than a farce, and itâ€™s an embarrassment that anybody in elected office in the city of New Britain would put together that press conference,â€ť Carlozzi said. â€śItâ€™s misinformation and itâ€™s disingenuous and itâ€™s far from the truth.â€ť
Carlozzi said he had approached Smedley personally about getting together to discuss the budget, but Smedley told him he had no interest.
Carlozzi said the Republican caucus has indicated that it will only vote for the mayorâ€™s budget and has no intention of considering changes.
â€śWe were not going to give them that document (of proposed changes) in advance of the meeting because they had made it very clear that they had no interest in making any changes, so why are they going to get a copy of the document?â€ť Carlozzi said. â€śThey had zero interest from the get-go to do anything other than what the mayor proposed.â€ť
In April, Stewart proposed a $237.7 million budget for the next fiscal year, a 1.5 percent reduction from the cityâ€™s current operating budget of $241.5 million. The proposal maintains the current mill rate of 50.50 on real estate and personal properties and 45.00 for motor vehicles.
The mayorâ€™s proposal gives the Board of Education the same amount it currently receives, $125.7 million. Including other education costs, $126.6 million is allotted to the school district.
Since her budget presentation in April, the councilâ€™s Democrats have criticized Stewartâ€™s claim that there is no tax increase in the budget. Carlozzi has previously said that since the cityâ€™s recent property revaluation increased property values in the city, residents are paying more in taxes even if the mill rate remains the same. A true â€śno tax increaseâ€ť would be reducing the mill rate to offset increased property values, Carlozzi has contended.
Stewart ultimately has the power to veto whatever the council votes on the budget. For her veto to be overridden, the councilâ€™s Democrats would need a total of 10 votes.
Council hears calls for education funding
NEW BRITAIN - In the public participation period before Wednesdayâ€™s Common Council meeting, more than a dozen teachers, students and parents asked for more money for the school district.
School Superintendent Nancy Sarra has said at least an additional $2.5 million is needed to properly fund the district.
â€śRight now, New Britain needs you to allocate funds to where they matter most, education,â€ť said Nora Pasco, a parent and New Britain native. â€śOur city does not grow when our children are cut off at the knees. Our children are the future of our city and of our country. When education is not prioritized, we all suffer.â€ť
Sal Escobales, a parent, teacher and president of the cityâ€™s teachers union, said the school system needs to be funded properly. American Federation of Teachers Local 871 took a zero-percent pay increase next year to help mitigate some of the cityâ€™s financial issues, Escobales said.
â€śIn recent times, Iâ€™ve had some minor disagreements with the superintendent, but on this we agree 100 percent,â€ť Escobales said. â€śWe really need to start seeing a real commitment from you guys, and Iâ€™m just being honest.â€ť
Jianna Navarro, a fifth-grader at Vance Elementary School, said she doesnâ€™t want programs cut, specifically the LEAP program.
â€śIâ€™m pretty upset about that because Iâ€™ve been in LEAP for fourth and fifth grade and I love my time there,â€ť Navarro said.
Nicole Rodriguez, president of the Board of Education, kept her statements to the council short.
â€śWe have a new police station, we have a new courthouse. If we donâ€™t want our babies to be in the school-to-prison pipeline, we should invest in education,â€ť Rodriguez said.