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Barron plans for 2 percent mill rate increase; Lyons predicts layoffs

Norwalk Finance Director Bob Barron.

Norwalk Finance Director Bob Barron.

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%.”

17-18-barron-recommended-budget-17-0213-excerpt

6 comments

Education101 February 14, 2017 at 9:13 am

Thank you Finance Director Bob Barron! Your efforts to keep spending in check deserves applaud. I would hope that the BOE can go back to the drawing board and propose budgets within the taxpayer means and pull back their scare tactics of more spending or else.

Lisa Thomson February 14, 2017 at 10:42 am

Education 101 – I hope that means the Mayor will use his re-election campaign Treasurer (the NFT President’s husband) to whisper in the union’s ear that they need to go on the state 2.0 plan for health insurance. That will save millions right there. How can there be a serious conversation about the budget without taking that 5% hike off the table?

The Board has tried for years to get collectively bargaining work rules and costs in line with what the city can afford – but state arbiutrators continue to split differences down the middle. Structural reforms have not happened fast enough and the City’s grand list can’t keep up. Neither can the state’s.

The other major budget item is accommodating student growth, costing ~2.5%. Until the Mayor’s Office and Common Council realize they are COMPLICIT in this crisis, due to lack of a Master Plan, lack of zoning regulations (unless someone wants to build a deck) the schools will continue to flood with more students. Their actions (building more apartments) or inaction (lack of enforcement) impact the BOE budget. Could overcrowding at Jefferson School be explained by the number of Direct TV dishes in that neighborhood versus the number of multi-units on the tax roll? Norwalk has long been a treasure trove for out of city landlords, who create illegal apartments and pocket the cash. Norwalk’s growing student population is bucking state trends. You gotta ask yourself why? Until our city government recognizes the link between P&Z and the BOE budget, we’re doomed.

Nora K King February 14, 2017 at 4:41 pm

I also think our tax assessor needs to start accurately valuing commercial properties. He keeps missing the mark and nothing is being done about it.

Bill Nightingale Jr February 14, 2017 at 5:03 pm

” •“The Bottom Line: The recommended FY 2017-18 budget is $347,908,852; representing an expenditure increase of $10,584,711 or 1%. ”

The 1% mentioned above seems to be an error. The $10.6mm increase is actually about a 3.5% increase. Once again, well above the rate of inflation (national YoY CPI being about 2.4%). Always a budget increase in Norwalk at some status quo rate over inflation.

Ken February 14, 2017 at 5:31 pm

These people are really out to lunch. A mill rate increase? At the same time we are getting ducks in a row to create more taxpayer funded houseing? We deserve a mill rate reduction not increase. Many of us are still struggling trying to make it here and all these people care about are everyone but taxpayers. It’s a disgrace. Bob Duffs been in Hartford standing up for everyone but us for long enough to laugh in his face over these issues, he created them, and so did Rilling to a huge degree. We cannot elect people who only care about photo ops and municiple careers and expect our kids to come before new motorcycles or incognito SUVs, fire boats and multimillion dollar new facilities for city departments. City hall us one of the oldest schools in Norwalk, but it’s AC works as does its heat and bathrooms. I sent two children thru our schools, all newer than City hall, and every one had issues. And those kids are both in college now. Meaning I’m talking about a long period of time that the city and state ignored for our children that they insist upon for themselves. Granted Rilling wasn’t in office but he was on the payroll making sure he hot his whether there was enough to go around or not. It’s long past time Norwalk looked at other cities with much lower taxation to find ways to cut costs instead of competing for the most grants and aid. To make it simple, Duff, Rilling, and the city in general put our children last. Lotta nerve to stand there and act like they have answers, a home seller and a police officer aren’t qualified for the positions these two fill.

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