Published September 17. 2012 6:00PM Updated September 18. 2012 6:09PM
New London — The debate and rhetoric about the 2012-13 budget and its 7.5 percent tax increase heated up Monday night, just hours before the polls open this morning for a referendum on the $42.3 million plan.
Dozens of members of the city’s public works union and their supporters stood outside the front and back doors of City Hall Monday night, urging councilors and those passing by to vote “YES’’ in today’s budget referendum.
“My heart belongs in New London,’’ said Marianna McGuirk, vice president of public works union, Local 1378. “We’re not here just because of losing jobs. We want to save our jobs, yes, but we want to save services.’’
“We’re trying to get out the word that more cuts would destroy the city’s infrastructure,” said Richard Waselik, a dispatcher in the city and president of Local 1378.
If more budget cuts are necessary, they will affect snow plowing, grass cutting and garbage collection, he said.
Among those protesting further budget cuts and urging a yes vote were Dawn and Okoi Tucker, who work for the city and live here.
“We’re affected either way,’’ said Dawn Tucker, who is a driver for the senior center. “We’re not happy about our taxes going up, but our taxes haven’t gone up in five years.”
Those opposing the budget and its 27.22-mill tax rate occupied a nearby corner at Masonic and Union streets holding signs that said NO to the budget.
The grassroots group “Looking Out for Taxpayers,” which was instrumental in getting the 644 signatures needed to force the referendum, has put up “NO” signs and paid for inserts explaining their position in a weekly newspaper that went to every New London home. They also took to public access television and social media to get out the no vote.
Both sides carried their arguments into City Hall and addressed the City Council.
A yes vote means the budget is approved as it is. A no vote means the budget would go back to the city council and the mayor for further reductions.
Those opposed to the budget say it is too large of an increase. Those in favor say the city has not had a tax hike in five years, state revenues are down and $42.3 million, which includes only a slight increase in spending, is needed to maintain services.
“Voting yes on the budget is not unlike asking for an unpleasant medical procedure,’’ Councilor Donald Macrino said during Monday’s City Council meeting. “It’s a bit painful for all of us.”
But he urged residents to approve the budget so the city can move forward.
Not all city councilors agreed that approving the budget is the prudent thing to do.
“I support a no vote,’’ said Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran. She said she has heard that further cuts to the budget would mean closing the senior center, gutting recreation and youth programs and reducing trash pickup to every other week. She, and Councilor Adam Sprecace, said they would not allow any of those cuts if the budget is rejected.
“If we have to go back and start over again, that’s our job and I’m not afraid to start over,’’ Friess-McSparran said.
Jane Glover, the mayor’s chief administrative officer, also spoke to the council and urged residents to vote in favor of the budget.
“Businesses want to see a stable economy,’’ she said, addressing the council in place of the mayor, who was at a forum at the Hygienic Art Inc. discussing the budget.
“We want to stop the acrimony,’’ she said. “We will be accountable to this budget.’’
Sprecace, who along with six fellow councilors spent weeks this spring dissecting the proposed 2012-13 budget, voted in favor of the 7.5 percent increase, but then said he could not support the budget because he did not have all the information to make a decision. He had asked for the number of employees in each department, their salaries and how much the city owes in debt service. He also wanted to see the budgets for the city’s enterprise funds — like Ocean Beach Park and the Water Street Parking Garage.
Late Monday afternoon, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio released pages of information, much of what Sprecace had been seeking. It is available on the city’s website at www.ci.new-london.ct.us.
Finizio, who had proposed a budget with a 20 percent tax increase, said nearly all of the information had been provided to the City Council on prior occasions.
“After months of line-by-line inspection of the budget by the City Council, months of meetings and e-mail exchanges between Council members and the Finance department, coupled with today’s release; any further complaint about lack of information should be seen for what it is; pure politics!” Finizio said in a statement accompanying a release of the information.