Update: 5:41 p.m. Monday, July 22: Candidate Harry Rilling contacted NancyOnNorwalk and promised his responses would be forthcoming, likely by Wednesday.
NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Democratic Town Committee couldn’t make up its mind about who it would back to run for mayor against Republican Richard Moccia this fall, but NancyOnNorwalk tried, with mixed results, to nail down the candidates on some issue-related questions.
It wasn’t easy.
It took a month and three requests, but two of the candidates – Vinny Mangiacopra and Matt Miklave – responded. We waited until 12:30 Monday morning for Harry Rilling and Andy Garfunkel to come through. If they do respond, we will bring you their answers. But, for now, we’ll start with Mangiacopra and Miklave answering the first two questions — the first about the current budget, the second about the recent extension given to the POKO development on Wall Street.
Looking at the city’s budget for the coming fiscal year, what would you have done differently? Are there areas you see that could have been cut? Would you have reallocated money to other departments/projects? Please be specific. We all know you think the Norwalk taxpayers are beleaguered, that property taxes are too high and city services are not good enough. But we need specifics.
“My first step would be a communications and energy efficiency audit and seek to cut utility heating, lighting, fuel and phone costs to save hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Mangiacopra said. “It’s a smart, easy and efficient way for the city to save money for years to come and be more environmentally conscious.
“In addition,” he said, “there needs to be a review of the public works services to seek reductions in contractual expenses. We need to seek ways to modify and reduce overtime costs, working with the unions in consensus-building ways. Calling any union contract a budget buster is the wrong way to conduct business. I am concerned that the current administration is too reliant on one shots and fiscal gimmicks on the revenue side, such as tax collection rate estimates. The next mayor is likely to inherit those problems.”
Mangiacopra also laid out a plan to review all parts of the budget annually in a bid to eliminate inefficiencies.
“The review would consist of meeting with every department and every level of staff,” he said. “After meeting with the departments we will conduct an intensive review in which we:
• Re-evaluate how the department or program achieves its stated goal
• Specify which departments or programs are producing results but are in need of improvement; specify which departments or programs are out of date and no longer serving a pressing need
• Identify work that is being done by multiple departments or programs in order to weed out duplication of work and eliminate waste
• Re-assess staffing levels based on needs and stated goals of department or program
• Determine the quality service to city residents
• Assess status of communication between department heads and staff as well as inter-departmental communication
He said the findings would be presented to an appointed, non-partisan citizen panel charged with recommending implementation of findings.
Miklave said the 2013-2014 operating budget could have been much worse had the city not won “a one-time favorable arbitration award under the teacher contract. We will not be able to rely on that one-time fix next year,” he said.
“We have to hold the line on further tax increases,” he said. “We have to implement the common core curriculum. We have to develop a jobs creation plan that supports local entrepreneurs and innovators. We have to invest more resources to combat violent and quality of life crime. And we have to fix our infrastructure.
“In the short term, the amount the city sets aside for future retiree health care benefits (called “OPEB”) must be included in any budget solution, among other one-time fixes.”
POKO’s Wall Street development just got another six-month performance extension despite major grumbling by some Zoning Commission members. Given the misgivings of said members and the history of extensions, would you push to keep the project alive if nothing has happened in six months, or would you lead the charge to pull the plug and go back to square one?
“It surprises me that some developers and projects (95/7 or Waypointe) seem to receive endless extensions and subsidies while the constant focus of this administration remains the POKO development,” Miklave said. “I believe in making development a level playing field.”
While not directly addressing the POKO situation, he wrote, “To the extent that reasonable extensions of time are all that is needed to allow the developer to complete the project in a reasonable time horizon, then I would favor extending the deadlines. However, to the extent a developer is unable to present evidence that a further investment in time will result in a completed project, then I would lead the charge to consider alternatives including reopening the development process to allow other developers to compete.”
Mangiacopra met the POKO question head-on.
“A quick browse of POKO’s website reveals other ‘stalled’ projects that are moving slowly or going nowhere. It seems as if nothing outside of New York City is going forward,” he said. “POKO has had years to get this project up and running. At every turn, it has shown an inability to make it work. Moreover, its program of overbuilding condos is passé and outdated. POKO has promised and over-promised. When I’m elected I will immediately seek to modify or pull the plug on this deal and seek a new request for a proposal for a more logical and reasonably sized complex.”
See the candidates’ complete answers in the attachments below.