Correction, 7:30 p.m.: A “3” was dropped from “3.1 percent” when the text was copied.
NORWALK, Conn. – Taking $2 million out of Norwalk’s fund balance will offset this year’s uncertainty in state funding, Finance Director Bob Barron said Monday, in issuing his recommended 2017-18 operating budget, which estimates a mill rate increase of 2 percent.
The recommended budget immediately drew condemnation from Board of Education members.
“The recommended budget represents a spending plan that limits overall spending to an increase of $10.6 million or 3.1% and an average mill rate increase of only 2%,” Barron wrote. “… With respect to the Board of Education (BOE) budget, I have recommended a $6.6 million or 3.8% expenditure increase over the adopted FY 2016-17 budget. This represents an in-crease equal to the amount the BOE provided last year in its three-year projection, but is well short of the $17.7 million it requested this year.”
“Well, I guess we’ll just have classrooms with 40 kids and some of our teachers will go without insurance,” BoE member Mike Barbis said at a Monday night meeting.
“Unless we get a highly problematic major increase in state funding, at this level employee layoffs will be inevitable, and all program improvements will be cancelled,” BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said in an email.
The Board requested a 10.1 percent increase, but the actual increase is 5.2 percent, when you take out the money requested to cover increased health insurance costs, Lyons said last week.
Mayor Harry Rilling and Superintendent of Schools Stephen Adamowski are looking into enrolling in the state’s 2.0 insurance plan, to reduce costs.
“I think the way to look at is for a family of four under our insurance plan, with the self-insurance I think we’re over $26,000 a year,” Barbis said last week. “I think under 2.0 that premium is about $16,000. We’ve got a little over 1000 employees with health insurance so you can do the math.”
Those hoped-for savings work out to $10 million. The BoE had a $8.6 million increase this year, Adamowski said recently.
“Going forward, this 10.1 percent is a lot,” Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said last week. “We all know that, including the members of the ‘Board of Ed.’ In the next month or so there’s probably going to be differences of opinion on how we work this out but however we move forward let’s try to keep our composure and have a civil discussion. Hopefully, when everything is done, when it’s spring we will all be satisfied and pleased to see the city and its school system moving forward.”
Barron’s recommended budget goes to the Common Council on Tuesday; the Council sets a budget cap by Feb. 28. The Board of Estimate and Taxation works on the budget, first meeting with city officials and then holding a public hearing, and submits its results back to the Council on April 3. Then the Council has the opportunity to raise its cap no later than April 18, but would need a two-thirds majority if it wanted to pull that off.
Barron, in his recommendation, said:
- “The city’s 2016 grand list has yet to return to its pre-recession value of $12.7 billion in 2008, coming in at only $12.2 billion. This $12.2 billion does; however, represent a 1.1% growth over the previous year, which is the second year of greater than 1% growth in the city’s grand list.”
- “The uncertainty of funding from the State of Connecticut, which is dealing with its own budget challenges, places the majority of the increase of costs to run the city on the mill rate charged to its taxpayers. Therefore, I recommend that the city draw down $2.0 million of its fund balance yet again next year, to partially offset the mill rate increases caused by rising expenses.”
- “The recommended budget represents a spending plan that limits overall spending to an increase of $10.6 million or 3.1% and an average mill rate increase of only 2%. Reducing expenditures to this level has been a major challenge, given the fact that the city faces structural expenses which are rising in certain key areas: Wages and Salaries, Contingency for contract settlements, Pension and Employee Benefits. No new positions have been included in my recommendation for the city.”
- “The Bottom Line: The recommended FY 2017-18 budget is $347,908,852; representing an expenditure increase of $10,584,711 or 3.1%. The combination of the Tax Assessor’s 2016 grand list increase of 1.1% and proposed mill rate increase of 2.0% yields a total tax levy increase of $9,339,500 or 3.1%.”