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Rilling points to shrinking grand list, backs POKO extension

Norwalk mayoral candidate Harry Rilling answers questions from the press at his February campaign kickoff.

NORWALK, Conn. – Former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling is the third Democratic candidate for mayor to send us his answers to a half dozen questions asked of all four candidates. The questions were intended to bring the candidates’ views on certain issues into sharper focus.

To date, Vinny Mangiacopra answered the first four questions, and Matt Miklave answered all six. To be fair, we originally asked four questions, and twice sent the list to the candidates. When we asked a third and final time, we added two questions. We believe Mangiacopra was working off the old list. We did try to contact him again, but received no reply.

Andy Garfunkel has not responded to repeated requests for information.

Rilling apologized for taking longer than Mangiacopra and Miklave, and answered all six questions.

With the other candidates, we focused on two questions in each story, and paired both candidates’ answers in each story. Accordingly, we will bring you Rilling’s answers in three installments, two questions at a time.

Question

Looking at the city’s budget for the coming fiscal year, what would you have done differently?

A.) Are there areas you see that could have been cut?

B.) 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.

Answer

Rilling pointed to a reduced grand list for the coming year as one problem the city faced at budget time.

“The Fiscal Year 2012-13 budget had an approved grand list of $12,808,981,218,” he said. “The FY 2013-2014 grand list was only $12,805,517,547, a difference of $3,463,671. Some of that decrease, which lowered property tax collections, was caused by successful tax appeals, meaning that many Norwalk properties had been assessed above their market value. This loss offset much of the increase in revenue from new building permits. But, at the same time, many commercial properties remain assessed as much as 19 percent below market value. This has to change as it places undue burden on the shoulders of homeowners, many of whom may have just accepted their new assessment.”

He also pointed to the delay in planned development projects, and the fact that the “new” building permit figure was inflated by people making storm-related repairs.

“Some of those building permits were not for new construction, but for repairs to homes due to damage caused by recent storms as well as other repairs and additions to existing homes. In the meantime, expected revenues from new development projects that have already been approved have not materialized because the developments remain stagnant.”

Rilling said he and his staff will comb through the budget line by line and eliminate or postpone expenditures that can wait.

“It is my intention to hold my department heads accountable for submitting and running their departments within reasonable budgets. Each line-item should be carefully scrutinized to determine which of the items can be either removed or pushed back to another year.

“I have also committed to forming a Mayor’s Advisory Committee to meet on a regular basis to review budget requests, evaluate the Master Plan, make appropriate recommendations to streamline government, and get stalled projects moving again,” he said. “This will take much of the tax burden off the shoulders of homeowners who are not receiving the services to which they are entitled.”

Question

POKO’s Wall Street development just got another six-month extension despite major grumbling by some Zoning Commission members. Given the misgivings of said members and 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?

Answer

Rilling chose a more conservative path than Miklave and Mangiacopra regarding POKO’s planned Wall Street project, supporting both the concept and the developer.

“I support the Wall Street redevelopment project approved for POKO,” he said. “The plan rightly envisions Wall Street as an urban residential village that includes both the recently built Avalon market-rate rental units and the affordable workforce housing envisioned by POKO. The plan is based on both historic preservation of beautiful old 19th century structures and public access to the waterway.”

“The POKO firm has invested $15 million of its own funds in purchasing the key properties on Wall Street.” He continued. “It is irresponsible to say ‘pull the plug’ on such a massive private investment in an area of Norwalk that remained without a plan, without an investor and without a vision for decades prior to 2005. Any candidate or incumbent who turns his back today on $15 million worth of private investment in an urban downtown project is plainly foolish. We need the jobs and tax revenue generated by this project. ‘Pulling the plug’ would set back Wall Street’s redevelopment by 10 years.”

Monday: Rilling weighs in on Oak Hills Park, transparency, the City Carting contract and outsourcing in general.

See responses to all six questions from Vinny Mangiacopra and Matt Miklave by clicking on links below:

Vinny Mangiacopra responses Questions 1

Matt Miklave Responses Question 1-6

14 comments

Tim T July 28, 2013 at 2:57 pm

“Wall Street as an urban residential village”
Harry I don’t know how to break the news to you but referring to Norwalk as urban is nothing to be proud of. Harry Norwalk was not urban until you and your buddy Moccia were in denial about the Norwalk gang and crime epidemic for years. Before you and your buddy Moccia screwed up Norwalk it was an small New England city.
MOCCIA IS RILLING
AND
RILLING IS MOCCIA

piberman July 28, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Its encouraging to have a candidate discussing the need to make local government more cost effective and affordable in a City where the median household income is just $72,000 and the cost of City employees approaching $100,000. Its a long overdue discussion that can only benefit our City.

M. Murray's July 28, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Actually Norwalk has been a city for a long time, complete with urban environment and urban housing complexes. This long predates Rilling’s position as Chief. Think back to the Jamaican Posse, Brotherhood, nation, and Latin Kings. Shootings were more common in the late 80’s than Ty are now.

Tim T July 28, 2013 at 9:48 pm

M. Murray’s
“Shootings were more common in the late 80′s than Ty are now”
That’s nonsense and you know it. I understand your support for Rilling as Cops always stick together. However Rilling was a nightmare as chief and the NPD was and is a failure . The strange thing about shootings we had in the 80’s were the that people actually got caught. Please don’t quote the uniform crime stats as you know as well as I do they are not accurate as the FBI themselves has stated. Crime in Norwalk is out of control and the NPD is not capable of getting it back under control.
Everyone I speak to seems to have this same feeling about the NPD. Actually the only ones that don’t seem to is a few on the blogs. I would also assume the criminals are happy with the NPD as they don’t get caught. Also as far as Norwalk being a city I suggest you re-read my post.

Hank Ryles July 28, 2013 at 10:43 pm

TEAM: Bob Burgess, Michael Geake, Mary Geake, Carvin Hilliard, Nate Sumpter, Mike Mushak, Galen Wells, Stu Wells, Peter Thor, Donna King, Dave Murchie, Mimi Burgess, Diane Lauricella, Bruce Morris, Migdalia Rivas, Alex Knopp……(who wrote most of these answers)…

M Allen July 29, 2013 at 9:07 am

Am I wrong, or was the title of this article all you really needed to read?
.
Rilling points to shrinking grand list, backs POKO extension
.
A reasonable answer as to why staying with POKO is perhaps better than the alternative, but for the Grand List… all he really did was point at it. Now if you’re looking at the future of Norwalk, which issue do you really need to get an answer on? The fact is that none of them have an answer for serious, measureable organic growth. It is a much easier conversation when the growth is being driven by rising values in a better economic environment.

NorwalkVoter July 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Tim T is right Norwalk is a “small New England city” and still is. The definition of urban is “city, town, municipality”. It is and has been categorized as a small city with a population under 100,000. So Tim T can make the word urban into a pejorative but he would be wrong. We are a diverse city, urban and sub-urban, surrounded by bedroom communities. We thrive on our diverstity. Tim T wants to split hairs over language but it does not change the definition of urban.

LWitherspoon July 29, 2013 at 10:20 pm

“Rilling said he and his staff will comb through the budget line by line and eliminate or postpone expenditures that can wait.”
.
Each of the four Democratic candidates has some version of this meaningless statement in his platform. Why must we elect them just to find out what cuts they would make? Why won’t they tell us now? Do they mean to say that they consider themselves qualified to be mayor, yet they can’t give us a single example of an expenditure that can be eliminated or postponed? Not even Miklave, who sits on the Common Council and votes on the budget every year?
.
Of course every candidate is in favor of good schools, low taxes, motherhood, children, the future, apple pie, and 80 degree beach days. They’ve been proclaiming this since the campaign started. When are they going to give us a real sense of how they make hard choices in a world of limited resources?

Tim T July 29, 2013 at 10:40 pm

NorwalkVoter
In as much as you are correct with the technical definition of the word “Urban” you seem to be a bit confused with the perceived definition of the word. When you call an area urban what comes to mind is the South Bronx , Detroit, Chicago , Watts, and tijuana . Basically areas that are run down with no forward direction and out of control crime. This is what Norwalk has become with Rilling as chief and Moccia as mayor. When you think of a small New England city what come to mind is Hyannis Mass and even Boston. I guarantee you residents of Hyannis do not consider themselves urban. Being called an Urban area is nothing to be proud of except in the mind of Moccia, Rilling and is supporters.

Mark Chapman July 29, 2013 at 11:30 pm

@Tim T

Well, Tim, hate to step in to take issue, but I am a Hyannis native, and, the interest of accuracy for Cape-bound vacationers, by the time we left the Cape’s commercial hub in 2002, we were all talking about the urban problems of what had been a small town. I nicknamed it Brockton by the Sea, and if you know anything about Brockton, Mass., it isn’t pretty.

You piqued my curiosity, though. Was I just being hard on my hometown? So I dug into the uniform crime reporting figures for the two most recent available years, 2010 and 2011. What I found, to use a ’60s expression, blew my mind. The violent crime total in the Town of Barnstable, which has just south of 50,000 residents, was 783 in 2010, and 666 in 2011. In Norwalk, a city of around 85,000, it was 380 in 2010 and 389 in 2011.

Norwalk had more murders: 3 in 2011 and 6 in 2010, while Barnstable had 1 in 2011. But Barnstable’s aggravated assaults were 242 in 2011 and 280 in 2010, while Norwalk’s were 196 and 218. And forcible rapes in Barnstable were 29 and 28, while in Norwalk they were 12 and 15. Norwalk had more robberies, 129 and 90 to 47 and 32.

In the reported span, Norwalk’s worst murder total was 9, in 1993; Hyannis had 5 in 2002 — all domestics, as I recall, and made the cover of People magazine.

Also, since 1985, Norwalk’s highest violent crime total was 453 in 1991; while Barnstable topped out at 874 in 1995. In fact, Barnstable has exceeded Norwalk’s worst crime total 12 times in that span, and has exceeded 600 seven times.

Please do not tell the Hyannis Chamber of Commerce I printed this…

Tim T July 30, 2013 at 12:24 am

Hunmmm
Its been a few years since I been to Hyannis. I am sorry to hear what happen to it as I spent a lot if time there in my collage years and after that also.
The only thing I would add is do not depend on the uniform crime reports as accurate as the FBI themselves has stated that it is only as good as what the local department reports and to what category they report it. The FBI does not audit these numbers.
However on a lighter note did you ever spend any time at the old ore and anchor bar, not sure if it was considered Hyannis or Falmouth …It was the best way way back in the day.

Mark Chapman July 30, 2013 at 12:47 am

@Tim T

First of all, you are correct about the reporting. You cannot take the figures as gospel; they do vary between departments. One person’s aggravated assault might be another’s simple assault. Murder and forcible rape? Pretty cut and dry. I gave a quick look at Fairfield County city totals and Danbury was a lot lower than Norwalk, while Norwalk and Stamford were close (Stamford had a bit more). Bridgeport was in another league.

When Mr. Rilling made the urban neighborhood comment, I read that as the typical city neighborhood with commercial and business at street level and residential upstairs, with most of the necessities (groceries, laundry, shopping, restaurants) within walking distance. “Urban” does have certain connotations depending on its use, though. In this case, Mr. Rilling was using the language of urban planners, which, indeed, was also used in Hyannis several decades ago for a couple developments off North Street (Chart House Village being one).

As for the bar, I don’t recall it. My bar time generally included good live jazz and adult contemporary. It also included performing as a vocalist in several spots, including my final gig there in 2002 at the Duck Inn Pub on Main Street in Hyannis. My final 12 years in Hyannis were spent commuting to work at the Boston Herald (1990-2002).

Tim T July 30, 2013 at 2:45 am

Mark
Thank you for the information about the article and the discouraging info about Hyannis. Its such a beautiful area and such a shame to see that it is having so many issues.

(Editor’s note: Agreed!)

M Allen July 30, 2013 at 3:21 pm

So anyway… back to Norwalk
.
@LWitherspoon, you are absolutely correct in asking what any of the four candidates will do. Its great making campaign promises about what they will look into, but they have to know enough by now to have some details about what line items can be touched and which can’t. But let’s face facts – the candidates are all trying to differentiate themselves from the incumbent yet none can provide any specifics about what they would do with the budget besides look at it.
.
How will they grow the grand list? Does anyone really suspect that any of the Democratic candidates will keep taxes lower than the incumbent? I hear a lot of talk about “keeping taxes low” but it is much more likely that those few words will be trumped by throwing more money at the biggest budgetary item in the City, the edcuation system? I’m sorry to say but Deomocrats aren’t known to be fiscal conservatives when it comes to other people’s money. And coming off a couple of years of “money issues” surrounding the BOE and other standard Democratic suport groups, are we to believe any of these four are going to kep the purse strings tight before they grow the grand list? If they can grow the grand list.

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.