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.
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.
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.”
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?
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: