By Democratic mayoral hopeful Andy Garfunkel
As reported recently in a local news article, “Norwalk’s Grand List grew at a scant rate of 0.08 percent last year, which will offer no relief to taxpayers hoping the city could avoid a property tax increase as a result of the recommended 2013-14 spending plan.” The city’s Grand List was $12.91 billion in 2012, up just less than $11 million from $12.9 billion the previous year. With an increase of less than 1 percent, the Grand List has not grown enough to offset the 3.97 percent tax increase set for the next fiscal year.
It’s the mayor’s job, as our chief elected official, to work to improve the city, not just in the months leading up to an election, but every single day. If Norwalk’s mayor had been doing this, he wouldn’t be left questioning how we will adequately fund our schools, or bemoaning the lack of growth in Norwalk’s Grand List and shrinking state aid.
In 2012, four of the top five highest taxpayers in the City of Norwalk were corporate or office developments located on Connecticut Avenue and Main Avenue, with combined real estate tax payments of over $385 million. On top of that, tenants in these buildings pay significant personal property taxes on equipment and they also bring high wage, professional jobs to our community. On the other hand, big box stores (like the Lowe’s now slated for construction on Connecticut Avenue) pay much less in taxes, bring low wage jobs and generate traffic that makes Connecticut Avenue a mess. That’s not smart growth.
Look at our main competitor to the south. Stamford aggressively courts new businesses and employers. It strengthens its commercial tax base and revitalizes its downtown, while here in Norwalk our ‘leadership’ muddles along, claiming victory when there finally a sign of movement on a long-stalled project like Waypointe, or an existing business like Pepperidge Farm grows. Holding onto your existing base is the bare minimum. How is it that a Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s leading hedge funds, leaves Westport, leapfrogging right over Norwalk to build its new corporate headquarters in Stamford?
Now as a testimony to our city’s economic development failure, the prime developable site in Norwalk, the 95/7 Project on West Avenue, remains vacant. Not only did the city clear the block and lose the tax revenue from businesses and homes that had been located on the site, but there it sat, and sat, and continues to sit. In the meantime, the construction workers who would be building the project haven’t benefited, the project isn’t generating the tax revenue it should have been by now, and this eyesore of a site is at one of the main gateways to our community. We can do better.
If our city government had been run smarter and more effectively over the last seven years, we wouldn’t be in this boat. Nobody else is going to solve our problems for us. The state is in its own fiscal crisis. Norwalk needs to get its fiscal house in order through a coordinated, sustained and effective program of economic development. To make that happen, we need active leadership that considers economic development a top priority.
I certainly do.
Former town clerk