NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s tax board put a potential $3.85 million into the plus column for the 2016-17 operating budget on Monday evening.
The expected revenue from a permit to General Growth Partners (GGP) for the proposed SoNo Collection – which was not included in the proposed budget – was just a brief smile-giving moment to the Board of Estimate and Taxation budget workshop, where various expected expenses were examined. The Board went over salary needs of several departments; Mayor Harry Rilling also explained that he is looking to avoid the $500,000 typically spent on a new Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).
The Norwalk Police Department’s budget is “pretty straightforward this year” with an increase of $194,000, Finance Director Bob Barron said, drawing few questions.
“I think this is a very modest request,” of the $21.7 million budget, Barron said. “… A good portion of that is because all of the salary increases are in contingency.”
There are 14 vacancies in the fire department as of July 1 due to seven retirements in June, Fire Chief Lawrence Reilly said.
The Connecticut Fire Academy class will begin in September and end around Christmas, meaning there will be overtime expenses until the end of the year, he said.
The Planning and Zoning Department is expecting to spend about $16,000 less on salary expenses in 2016/17 due to a lesser salary for a new P&Z director, who will have less experience, acting P&Z Director Mike Wrinn said.
Barron said a new POCD has in the past cost “upwards of several hundred thousand dollars” but “we have tried to look at what the actual requirement from the state is.”
Discussions revolve around updating the existing plan, Barron said.
Rilling asked that the expense be put on the “open item list” – items to be reexamined at the end of the budget process – and said he’s been discussing it with the Planning Commission and the Zoning Commission.
“I am not sure it is necessary to spend $500,000 every 10 years on a plan that perhaps might need just a refreshing, to kind of take a look at it and evaluate what has been done, evaluate what has not yet been done and evaluate what we would like to have done,” Rilling said.
He will take a look at this with Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan, Zoning Commission Chairman Adam Blank, Planning Commission Chairman Torgny Astrom, Wrinn and the Business Advisory Council, and perhaps make a determination, he said.
“I am hopefully going to avoid an entirely new process if the current Plan of Conservation and Development is still a guide that is relatively in agreement with where we want to go,” Rilling said.
Norwalk’s registrars predicted that their expenses this year will likely be less than they might be due to the unlikelihood of primaries.
“Next year’s budget will probably have at least a Republican primary, on Aug. 9,” Republican Registrar Karen Doyle Lyons said.
“Doesn’t look like we will have a Democratic one this time, as best I can read the tea leaves at the moment,” Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells said.
He reminded the Board that two years ago there were primaries for the seats held by State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) and State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140).
“My tea leaves say nobody is doing that again, but there is no way to anticipate these things,” Wells said.
“One thing is for sure – nothing is for sure,” Rilling said.
The Code Enforcement Department is projecting a $56,000 increase in its budget due to a “significant increase in building permits,” Barron said.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled, but the only way (Norwalk Chief Building Official Bill Ireland) can get this done is by increasing the hours of our part-time staff,” Barron said.
There are permits needed if the Glover Avenue apartments go ahead; Head of the Harbor is underway, Highpointe is expected, the Belden Avenue apartments are a possibility and there is that mall project on the horizon, Ireland said.
“These are all big, big projects that are going to require manpower,” Ireland said.
“I think you and your department have to be commended for having a 25 percent increase in the number of inspections over the last two years or three years and doing it with a flat budget,” BET member Anne Yang-Dwyer said to Ireland.
There’s a problem brewing for future years with “mass retirements,” Ireland said, naming himself, an inspector and a secretary. But this year the staffing is flat.
Asked by Barron, Ireland said he expected GGP to pay $4 million for a permit pending approvals to build The SoNo Collection.
Barron said the budget currently has $3.4 million expected for permit revenue.
“Bill is spot on year in and year out on his estimates on building permit revenue,” Barron said. “… I certainly would like to incorporate (the $4 million) now.”
“You don’t get the $4 million in one shot because it’s done in phases,” Ireland said. “Based on what I am thinking it could be easily at 3.8, 3.9.”
The Board put it in as a $3.85 open item under revenue.
“That’s a huge impact on our budget,” Barron said.
Among the more picayune topics was the focus on mail expenses in P&Z.
Chairman Greg Burnett asked Wrinn about $6,000 for postage and the discrepancy between morning mail and afternoon mail.
Wrinn said the number varied from year to year, calling it an “oddity.”
Barron said there have been multiple machines, and credits could not be transferred from year to year.
“We have eliminated one of the meters and we have gotten money back,” Barron said, expressing confidence in the $6,000 figure.
“I am glad we were able to solve that huge problem,” Rilling quipped, adding, “We should bring a consultant in.”