New London - The city would have to lay off 20 police officers to save $1.4 million in the police budget, a cut that would decrease department staffing by 25 percent.
"It will change the way we do policing,'' Chief Margaret Ackley told the City Council Finance Committee Monday night.
But some members of the committee said it is too early in the budget deliberations to say what will be cut and if jobs would be eliminated in order to stay within Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio's proposed spending plan for 2013-14.
"This is something I can't live with,'' Councilor Adam Sprecace said when told by the finance director that cutting $1.4 million would mean eliminating the 20 positions.
"The last thing we want to do is lose patrolmen on the streets,'' agreed Council President Michael Passero.
The mayor has proposed a $40.2 million general government budget, which includes cuts to the police, fire and public works departments, and less funding for the library, seniors and youth programs.
The police budget would decrease from the $8.3 million to $6.8 million.
"There really is little to no wiggle room in this budget,'' Ackley said. "It's mostly bodies."
There are 10 officers eligible to retire, but realistically, she said, probably only one will retire next year. There are also four officers looking to move to the state police and another is looking to move to another department.
She urged the committee Monday that if layoffs are imminent, officers should be told so they can look for other jobs. There currently are openings in other departments, she said.
The finance committee Monday began meeting with department heads to figure out where cuts can be made.
No action was taken at the meeting. Councilor Donald Macrino, chairman of the finance committee, said the group will meet with all department heads before making any decisions. More meetings are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
Also on Monday, Public Works Director Tim Hanser, who is facing a $400,000 cut in his current $7.4 million budget, suggested the city move to privatize curbside trash collection, which could save about $900,000 annually.
But Passero pointed out that such a program would only shift the cost to residents in a different way. "This is not a savings to the taxpayer," he said. Garbage collection would cost property owners between $200 and $275 a year, Hanser said.
While the municipal side of the budget has about $1 million less in spending, the school department has requested - and Finizio is supporting - a 2.5 percent increase to cover raises, five new elementary school teachers and a middle school counselor.
The proposed school budget is $40.8 million, which is nearly $1 million more than the current budget of $39.8 million.
The city is looking at substantial cuts in state revenue.
If the budget is approved as proposed, taxpayers would be looking at just under a 1 mill tax increase. The tax rate would increase by 0.82 mills, from 26.6 mills to 27.42 mills.