Re­gion: New Lon­don res­i­dents pe­ti­tion for bud­get ref­er­en­dum

About 400 New Lon­don­ers signed pe­ti­tion

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By GREG SMITH Day Staff Writer

“We just want the coun­cil to look at what they’re spend­ing our tax­payer dol­lars on. Is it the best use of our money?” JAY WHEELER, CHAIR­MAN OF THE NEIGH­BOR­HOOD AL­LIANCE

New Lon­don — Un­sat­is­fied with the city’s spend­ing habits and a new pay-as-you-throw trash re­moval pro­gram pro­posal, hun­dreds of peo­ple have signed a pe­ti­tion ask­ing that the $49.86 mil­lion gen­eral gov­ern­ment bud­get go to a city­wide ref­er­en­dum vote.

The pe­ti­tion was sub­mit­ted to City Clerk Jonathan Ayala hours be­fore Thursday’s dead­line and con­tained about 400 sig­na­tures gath­ered through work of a pe­ti­tion­ing com­mit­tee spear­headed by the Repub­li­can Town Com­mit­tee and Neigh­bor­hood Al­liance.

About 310 sig­na­tures, or 10 per­cent of the num­ber of peo­ple who voted in the last elec­tion, are needed to cer­tify the pe­ti­tion and force the City Coun­cil into some type of ac­tion.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the pe­ti­tion­ing com­mit­tee and school board mem­bers halted the sub­mis­sion of a pe­ti­tion for the school bud­get. The school dis­trict on Thursday af­ter­noon re­leased on its web­site fi­nan­cial data which school board Fi­nance Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jef­ferey Hart de­scribed as a doc­u­ment con­tain­ing ac­counts payable in­for­ma­tion.

Hart said he has heard a steady stream of crit­i­cism from city Repub­li­cans about the per­ceived lack of trans­parency in the school bud­get. The re­lease of the fi­nan­cial data, he said, was a step to­ward gain­ing trust with the pub­lic and the crit­ics, as well as avoid­ing more bud­get strife.

Hart was on hand at City Hall to en­sure the school bud­get pe­ti­tion was not sub­mit­ted, as had been promised.

Repub­li­can Karen Paul, a mem­ber of the pe­ti­tion­ing com­mit­tee, is­sued a joint state­ment from the com­mit­tee call­ing the school board’s move a demon­stra­tion of “a sin­cere will­ing­ness to pro­vide mean­ing­ful and full trans­parency to the cit­i­zens and tax­pay­ers of New Lon­don.”

“These ac­tions and fis­cal dis­clo­sures to­day by the Board of Education and New Lon­don Pub­lic Schools are only the be­gin­ning and rep­re­sent un­prece­dented progress, set­ting the tone to end decades of bud­get se­crecy and be­gins a new chap­ter of co­op­er­a­tion, clar­ity and true trans­parency be­tween New Lon­don Pub­lic Schools, the Board of Education and the com­mu­nity.”

“This is how it is sup­posed to work in a com­mu­nity. Peo­ple com­ing to­gether to talk is­sues through and come to com­mon ground,” the state­ments reads.

Rob Pero, chair­man of the Repub­li­can Town Com­mit­tee, said Repub­li­cans were dis­sat­is­fied with the “poor pub­lic pol­icy” on dis­play when the City Coun­cil voted on a bud­get that im­ple­mented mea­sures to move for­ward the new trash-re­moval pro­gram.

Specif­i­cally, Pero said the ap­proved bud­get con­tains rev­enues from pur­chase of bags man­dated in the pro­gram and fund­ing to­ward a fleet of new trash-re­moval ve­hi­cles.

He said the city has been less than up­front with cit­i­zens about im­ple­men­ta­tion of a pro­gram op­posed by many res­i­dents. Pero said there is also still some bit­ter­ness over the City Coun­cil’s in­ac­tion on a sim­i­lar bud­get pe­ti­tion last year that never did lead to a ref­er­en­dum.

Pero said the Repub­li­can Town Com­mit­tee took no for­mal stance on the school bud­get in part be­cause of a pro­duc­tive re­cent meet­ing with in­com­ing school Su­per­in­ten­dent Cyn­thia Ritchie.

Jay Wheeler, chair­man of the Neigh­bor­hood Al­liance, said he felt there was in­ap­pro­pri­ate spend­ing on both city and education sides of the bud­get.

“We just want the coun­cil to look at what they’re spend­ing our tax­payer dol­lars on. Is it the best use of our money?” he said.

Wheeler said from his point of view, the city needed to act on con­sol­i­dat­ing in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and fi­nance de­part­ments rather than cut­ting ser­vices to se­niors.

“I want city­wide tax­pay­ers to be able to go to the polls to be able to vote ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’ If they vote ‘no,’ my ex­pec­ta­tion is to work with the City Coun­cil to find ways to do pru­dent cuts and con­sol­i­da­tions and be more fis­cally pru­dent with the tax­payer money. It’s not to hurt every­body,” he said.

City Coun­cil Chair­man An­thony Nolan said he only learned of the pe­ti­tion on Thursday but ex­pected to hear more from res­i­dents about the rea­sons.

“If enough peo­ple signed it, that’s enough for me to say let’s have some open dis­cus­sion,” Nolan said.

Ayala said he would work to ver­ify sig­na­tures and ex­pects to have fi­nal word within the next 10 busi­ness days.

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