MERIDEN — The City Council will vote Thursday on roughly $1.4 million in proposed cuts to the city budget, reducing the previously adopted tax increase from 4.53 percent to 3.36 percent.
The recommended cuts, approved unanimously Tuesday by the Finance Committee, include $250,000 reductions each to the police, fire and education budgets. The committee also recommended making a cut to all other non-public safety departments that would amount to three furlough days for all employees.
If those departments are not able to negotiate furlough days with employees, the departments would have to find the savings elsewhere, possibly by eliminating positions, committee Chairman Brian Daniels said Wednesday. Total savings from the furlough days would amount to $228,000, Finance Director Michael Lupkas said.
The council will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the Board of Education building, 22 Liberty St., to pass a new budget.
Residents rejected the council’s budget in a referendum last month because they felt the previously adopted tax increase was too high. The average city homeowner would have paid roughly an additional $200 as a result of the increase. The average homeowner will pay an additional $150 under the committee’s recommended budget, Lupkas said.
Other changes recommended by the committee, Lupkas said, include: a $250,000 cut to employee health insurance, a $25,000 cut to the workers’ compensation line, a $15,000 cut to the special events line, and a $17,000 cut to the city’s Daffodil Festival contribution. The council also opted not to fill some vacant positions, including the communications director position, with a salary of about $75,000 and a HVAC technician, paid about $61,000.
The City Council has until Friday to adopt a new budget, and can accept or reject the subcommittee’s recommendations.
Daniels said the fire and police departments will decide where the $250,000 in cuts come from. Daniels said fire and police have “very sizable” budgets and he believes cuts needed to be made to those departments to significantly reduce the tax increase.
“The referendum passed. I think people clearly understand public safety and education (constitute the majority of city spending),” Daniels said. “If you want meaningful reductions, you know those pots are going to be hit. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.”
Council Minority Leader Dan Brunet, who sits on the finance committee, said he’s happy with the approved recommendations.
“I believe we produced some meaningful reductions that were asked of the council,” Brunet said. “...It may not have been as much as some anticipated, but there’s many moving parts to a budget and we had a very small time frame to work with and the end result is good.”
Police Chief Jeffry Cossette said his department would meet the cut by reducing six “proactive assignments” and returning those officers to patrol, which would help cut the department’s overtime line from about $1.5 million to $1.25 million.
The proactive assignments include neighborhood initiative officers and school resource officers. Cuts would affect Officer Kenneth Egan, an elementary school resource officer; Officer Mike Ford, a neighborhood initiative officer assigned to the Meriden Green and train station area; Officer Fred Rivera, an NI officer assigned to the South Meriden area; Officer Adam Kery; an NI officer assigned to the Washington Park area; Lt. George DelMastro, a commander of the NI unit; and Sgt. Darrin McKay of the Internal Affairs unit. Those officers would be assigned to patrol, Cossette wrote in a letter to the council.
Cossette said the department's proactive policing model has helped significantly reduce crime rates over the years.
Holly Wills, president of the Meriden Council of Neighborhoods, said she has “grave concerns” about the changes. The moves outlined by Cossette would reduce the department’s neighborhood initiative unit from nine officers to six.
“This will really negatively affect our neighborhoods, and we’re envisioning increased crime,” Wills said. “It’s disheartening, it really is.”
Fire Chief Ken Morgan couldn’t be reached for comment on the proposed cuts to his department.
Lupkas said officials learned after the budget was adopted that $250,000 of the $900,000 in state aid to the Board of Education came from funding meant to pay back money held from the city last year, prompting the Finance Committee to recommend the school budget cut.
While the city will keep the $250,000, the school board will still receive the remaining $650,000, meaning the board will still have an increase in funding from the prior year, Daniels said.
Board of Education president Mark Hughes said education officials are frustrated the council chose to cut the board because the board has been flat-funded by the city for the past eight years. Hughes also noted the board didn’t contribute to this year’s tax increase because the only additional funds it received were from the state.
“From my standpoint, when they looked at the budget and they said, ‘What’s causing this mill rate increase?,’ they didn’t need to talk about the Board of Education,” Hughes said. “Education dollars did not cause the mill rate increase.”
The City Council gave the Board of Education a $250,000 discount on its health insurance costs as part of the previously adopted budget. Lupkas said the council would have needed to rescind the discount if it didn’t withhold the $250,000.