NEW BRITAIN – After more than an hour of wrangling, City Council Democrats passed a budget with a .50 mill rate decrease during a special meeting Saturday setting up a potential veto by Mayor Erin Stewart.
In April, Stewart proposed a $237.7 million budget for the next fiscal year, a 1.5 percent reduction from the city’s current operating budget of $241.5 million. Her proposal maintains the current mill rate of 50.50 on real estate and personal properties and 45.00 for motor vehicles.
The mayor’s plan 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.
However Democrats rammed through a last minute change Saturday that included a $1.7 million spending decrease, which included lay-offs of some department heads. The Board of Education would get a $429,000 increase under the Democrats’ plan and the city hall budget would be reduced by $1.3 million.
The $1.7 million reduction was achieved in part by cutting the position of Director of Community Services, who oversees many of the city’s social service and youth programs, cutting the newly hired Director of Senior Center, cutting the Director of the Elderly, cutting the $70,000 spent on Main Street USA, a festival that Stewart brought back from extinction. Under the plan that was approved, several vacant positions would not be filled.
Since Stewart’s budget presentation in April, the council’s Democrats have criticized Stewart’s claim that there is no tax increase in the budget. The numbers are based on revaluation, which pegged the values of some residential and commercial properties higher than last year. The end result would be although the mill rate is staying the same, those property owners would pay higher taxes, said Council Democratic Majority Leader Carlo Carlozzi who led the charge to put forth $1.7 million in cuts within the final hours of when the budget had to be passed according to the City Charter.
“The Republican members of the council have previously said no new taxes and that’s not true,” Carlozzi said. Carlozzi said some property owners could see anywhere from a $100 tax increase to a $2,200 tax increase depending on how much the value of their property increased under revaluation.
Stewart called for a special meeting of the council for 1 p.m. Saturday after both parties failed to come to an agreement on her proposed budget earlier in the week. Both sides blamed each other for the lack of communication between the two parties forcing an end run at the budget just hours before the 12 a.m. deadline when it was required to be passed.
After arguing for more than an hour, council members voted along party lines to approve the $1.7 million in cuts put forth by Carlozzi with nine Democrats voting in favor and four Republicans and council member Daniel Salerno, who ran on the Republican ticket voting against. Council member Jaime Giantonio was not at the meeting.
Stewart has 10 days to veto the amended budget. She declined to say what her next move would be other than that she could have to scrutinize the cuts the Democrats put forth. “Unfortunately there was a lot of misinformation that has been thrown out during this process and I wish someone would have taken the time to include me as part of their discussions on wishes to make reductions,” Stewart said after the meeting. “Instead the Democrats waited until the last minute, when there was no time to calculate the validity of some of these proposed cuts to vital services.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.