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Norwalk seeks answers as $4.4 million cut threat looms

Drew Todd speaks to the Common Council in February, as Jessica Garnett, right, and Barbara Meyer-Mitchell, center, listen. 

Correction, 1:36 p.m.: Drew Todd is not a BoE candidate.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk education activist Drew Todd thinks Gov. Dannel Malloy is a dumbass and he isn’t afraid to say so.

Todd, on the Facebook page Norwalk Parents for Education, drew a rebuke from moderator Barbara Meyer Mitchell for his use of the phrase, but succeeded in drawing out information from Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King about the current budget crisis.

“We are also concerned about the uncertainty of the state budget,” King wrote. “…We are working on contingency plans – none of which are appealing.”

“He is truly a Dumb A** who obviously hates Norwalk! I have other names but this is the nicest,” wrote Todd in a discussion that touched on Malloy’s executive order, which would cut $4.4 million from this year’s school budget if it is not reversed by the legislature.

“Drew, we do have standards for the page regarding swear words,” Meyer Mitchell, a Democratic-endorsed BoE candidate, wrote. “Thus far I have given you a pass as you have used the symbols and out of respect for our working relationship through PTOC. If you refuse to adhere to site standards, we may be forced to delete future posts. Please be more mindful of a tone of civility out of respect for the members of this community. Govenor Malloy is not a member here. You should direct your ire towards him.”

“Trust me I do direct my anger towards him and Clueless Bob {Duff}! And I am being civil. The time for being and playing nice when it comes to him is way over! We are about to loose {sic} $4 Million Dollars! Let me know how civil we are supposed to be when we have 35 kids in a class and start laying off teachers,” Todd wrote.

“How does the taunting and name calling of politicians get us the budget we want?” a parent asked. “People are angry and we want the best for our kids, but getting everyone amped up and argumentative since we all believe different things, does nothing. I’m not a Malloy fan, but when name calling and bashing becomes the norm, it becomes a problem where work cannot get done and compromises cannot move forward. The first amendment gives you the freedom to say something without government oppression or censorship, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t social and other consequences.”

“Actually I have been calling him that since the day he took office. I honestly I will call him that until the day he is out of office. And trust me he has been called worse. He doesn’t give a rats obviously,” Todd wrote.

“It is definitely not a political name bashing group,” Meyer-Mitchell wrote. “It definitely is a place for parents to raise, discuss and solve issues. I never thought I would personally become involved in politics. However, politics are the means by which we as a community set our priorities. Education does not exist in a vacuum, and our schools need resources. By being involved in politics, we guarantee that our district moves up this ranking list. I’ve decided it’s a cause worth working towards.”

“I was very impressed with your constructive approach this morning,” Meyer Mitchell wrote to Todd.

“I am just throwing this out there and I don’t even know if it is even possible or legal,” Todd had written earlier. “But given our current situation we need to really get creative if we are going to continue the path we are in our schools.  … Is it possible that we could add a penny or 2 cents to the City Gas Tax And earmarking those funds for the BOE? Are we able to reinstate the fee for Beach & Transfer Station Stickers anywhere from $2-$5 every 2 years? Are we able to put a $2-$5 fee on bus passes? That would just help off-set the transportation costs. Is it possible to enact a $1-$5 fee to SONO Ice House, The Swimming Pool (Not the Cities but the private one and I can’t remember the name) or any sort of ‘activity’ venue that mainly pulls in from our surrounding towns?”

“As soon as the state sees we have the money, they will cut other money from us. THis is what the Governor is doing right now,” BoE member Bryan Meek wrote.

“I agree that if these cuts from the state do happen, we need to raise revenues. The easiest way to do that is by increasing the mill rate. The gas tax is a workable idea. We should be wary of raising the bus pass cost, as people using the bus system are least able to afford an increased cost,” Meyer Mitchell wrote.

“For every dollar we raise, they will cut our state aid another $1,” Meek replied.

“Totally agree the City needs more options – unfortunately the state limits municipalities ability to collect revenue,” Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King wrote.

She went on, “We are limited to property taxes and permits/fees. We are prohibited from enacting any other local taxes – whether those are a good idea or not is a discussion for another day – but as of now they are not a legal option. We are also concerned about the uncertainty of the state budget. The Mayor, Superintendent, and leadership from the CC, BOE and BET met with our state delegation shortly after the Governor’s executive order was released a few weeks ago to talk about options. (This latest announcement includes the same numbers that were released earlier this summer). We are working on contingency plans – none of which are appealing. We have done a great job reducing costs and keeping our rainy day fund healthy – we will get through this however it goes – but it will hurt. Most important thing for us right now is for the legislature to pass a budget. Almost any scenario would be preferable to the governor’s draconian recommendations. Relying on our delegation to come through for us.”

“Assuming we ever pass a budget which if I am correct we would need it done before Sept 1st is there some sort of emergency bill we could ask our State Reps to enter as part of the budget vote. It should allow us to raise revenues any way we need too,” Todd replied.

“(W)hen we met with the delegation we did ask them to include language allowing municipalities to decide for themselves what (if any) local tax options might work for them,” King replied. “I.e. Retail heavy municipalities might want to enact a penny sale tax (1%) whereas others might prefer a gas, hotel, commuter, local income tax or what have you. Not saying we should do any of those, but it should be up to each town to figure out what works for them. It’s not a popular option (more taxes never is) but I think it should be a tool municipalities should at least be able to consider.
As for your other point – the whole state is in big trouble. we have been short changed by the state forever – only silver (bronze?) lining is that we will survive one way or another – while 5% of our budget comes from the state there are some communities in the state who rely on 30, 40, 50% or more of their budget coming from the state. Those communities will be completely devastated if state funding deteriorates. We really need a better way … but haven’t heard any bright ideas from any of the gubernatorial candidates.”

Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons on Monday said that if Malloy’s cuts are enacted, NPS would likely begin reducing the budget by using a list formulated in July, before the Norwalk Federation of Teachers agreed to switch to a state-run health insurance plan, CT Partnership 2.0.

But those cuts “wouldn’t get us half way to what we’d need to cut to close a $4.4 million gap,” he said in an email. “This is going to be awful if the legislature can’t get a reasonable budget approved.  My fear, of course, is that by putting State-level savings out of reach for 4-10 years with the SEBAC deal, the next biggest part of the budget — municipal aid — becomes the prime target for cuts.”

King said Monday evening that the legislature is under a lot of pressure to release a budget before the first Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) payments are due in October.

So that’s the deadline.

Norwalk leaders have referred in the past to a possible October release of a budget. They have known since the legislature failed to release a budget, and the governor hasn’t done anything to change his executive order, King said.

“We have been working really hard with our legislators to try to urge them to come to a compromise and adopt a budget. They have assured us that they are confident that they are going to be able to come to a resolution. So, we are just waiting,” she said.

Norwalk built its budget on the governor’s January budget proposal, and it’s possible that there won’t be a big cut, she said.

“Almost any scenario will be better than the governor’s executive order,” King said.

The upside is based on the downside – Norwalk has been shortchanged in state funding for so long that they city isn’t as dependent as some other cities, with 5 percent of Norwalk’s funding coming from the state instead of 50, she said.

“I just think that it’s really unfair that the state has control over how much money they are going to give us but then they also limit our options for how we can raise revenue. If they are going to take away funding then they need to give us flexibility in how to raise revenue so our only option isn’t just to put it on homeowners,” she said.

A city-wide sales tax might make Norwalk less competitive, but, “let our Common Council decide that,” King said. “Let the people who live here decide that. Why are you going to tell us from Hartford?”

14 comments

Sue Haynie August 15, 2017 at 6:12 am

I’m sorry, but Harry Rilling is running for Mayor not his assistant. Rilling is not speaking out on these issues or explaining where he stands and this will happen on his watch. Rilling has been the mayor for 4 years. He shouldn’t be afraid to speak. This is not leadership.

Lisa Brinton for Mayor. Norwalk needs a fighter and transparency.

Sue Haynie August 15, 2017 at 6:15 am

Also, every person running for office this year in Norwalk should be asked if they would advocate for and vote yes to an increase in local taxes.

Mike McGuire August 15, 2017 at 6:26 am

Here are four ways to increase our grand list while making Norwalk a better, more productive place to live and work. Consider these as positive tax increase sources vs. the negatives noted in the article above.

1. Re-activate the Wall Street train station. A revitalized downtown will see $1.75 million increase in annual tax revenues from this area. Imagine what a revitalized Wall Street would bring to the area. This can be funded via inclusion in the Walk Street bridge repair budget. Two other reasonable funding alternatives exist as well.

2. Change the “restricted industrial” zone on MLK to “industrial 1 or industrial 2”. This will see an increase in land value and a host of new business locating here. Result, more positive tax revenues

3. Disband or curtail the Norwalk Parking Authority. The NPA is creating economic hardships on our most vulnerable business sectors – the small business that resides in our downtowns. The current parking policies effectively impose a $2.00 per square foot “tax” on our downtown buildings which has the direct effect of reducing property values by $25 per square foot.

For the SoNo building stock that can amount to a 10 to 15 percent loss in property value. Multiply that across the 2.0 million square feet of space in our downtowns and the scope of this problem begins to come into view. To add insult to injury Norwalk doesn’t see but a fraction of the parking income. Most goes to LAZ Parking, a private parking company.

4. Insist that the common council engage qualified professionals to oversee, and provide a check to reasonableness of the major projects/issues such as allowing Duleep’s blight on Wall Street, The POKO fiasco, the new main library parking deal, the 95/7 dramas, the NPA as outlined above. Clearly history has shown that relying on the current “process” has been costly for Norwalk.

Each of these four items noted above have a significant impact on our fiscal well being and quality of life. Yet I don’t believe there had been any serious inquire by City leadership, staff or the the City’s advisors to address these issues before, during, or after the fact.

Norwalk can have a bright future, even with these looming budget issues. But it will require asking the right questions to formulate the most prudent path to take.

These are only 4 ideas from one tax payer. I’m sure there are many more.

Josh Ornstein August 15, 2017 at 7:33 am

I guess I agree with you, Sue. We are paying 150k a year so the mayor can hide behind this woman? Shameful. We need to go to City Hall and chant his name like he did to Moccia.

Kevin Kane August 15, 2017 at 9:30 am

The wick is lit folks and it won’t be pretty. If a private company was at the brink of massive sales decreases and imminent budget cuts, the President, VPs and top management would be in lock down until it was resolved with daily recaps of progress. No weekends off. No vacations. But no, Hartford has not and will never work properly.
Drew Todd is spot on – while a$$ might not appropriate policy wise, it is time to get way more aggressive. I suggest the BOE publishes a spreadsheet of what the cuts are so people, Bob Duff especially, get a clue as to what the $4.4M means. Forget the “it will be a lot” or “it will be bad” or “it’s drastic”. Don’t give me this “while 5% of our budget comes from the state there are some communities in the state who rely on 30, 40, 50% or more of their budget coming from the state” – so if others are worse off, we are OK? Whatever….
I say those in the know from the BOE etc ought to go for the jugular and put it out there in black and white so people can get a clear picture of what will happen. Put a face to the name – 56(?whatever the H the number is) photos of each aide who will be cut on the front page of the Hour ought to be a good start. Maybe Lisa Brinton is already buying a spot in the Hour or a billboard on 95 to expose this sham.

Patrick Cooper August 15, 2017 at 11:20 am

Sticks & Stones are the rhymes in poems to urge a civil discourse among the masses, but that effort becomes, more difficult in sums, when the democrats have sold out our asses! Drew Todd doing his best Howard Beale – saying he’s mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore! I get it! Further upsetting is – acting all financially savvy and frugal is frowned upon by the state, with punitive measures aimed at dissuading municipalities from doing anything smart – because that makes them look bad!

I agree @Sue Haynie – good to know Ms. King can do a fine Huckabee impression, but it would be nice to know what script Harry would read. I imagine it’s on draft 5 by now – he’s just wiping off the Duff lobster bisque and getting ready for his photo op with a new baby blue tie from Mitchells. Maybe he can peel off a few bucks from his little mayor’s kitty, although perhaps those dollars are needed for votes. Ms. King laments the states shackles – “limits our options” – on creative solutions – one wonders why she wouldn’t openly call for our legislative leaders to craft proposals to undo them? Oh, that’s right.

No – Norwalk has got a democratic family problem: the democratic lead state has pneumonia, so we got the flu. Problem is – the patient is getting tired of the same old cure: punitive property taxes applied to a smaller and smaller percentage of the populace. This is our reality – how much more “revenue” can you squeeze until the source runs out? But the horror – the shame – when the concept of balance in a budget means having to do the same with less. Sadly, the local and state lead GOP has offered little in the way of meaningful solutions outside of a budget – and the organic nature of the inter-party conflict is such that taking the opposite side just assures a pendulum swing that creates a whole separate set of problems.

Nope. It’s long past the time to drop the dumb petty politics – and it’s high time we collectively encourage and embrace smart professionalism. Once again – the case, and point – for an unbiased, transparent – disciplined leader for Norwalk: Lisa Brinton Thompson for Mayor.

Drew Todd August 15, 2017 at 11:50 am

Greetings All

Though I have been asked a number of times to run for the BOE or Common Council and would love to serve this City more in a higher capacity. I have to unfortunately decline this great opportunity due to the fact I commute in the City daily and most of my business is conducted at night. Further I am not sure how this even came about that I was running and would have appreciated some sort of communication from NON besides just using what I posted on a FB Page. I have always maintained that I would love to run and someday I might. But this story is 100% false and I am not running for BOE. I wish all the candidates that are the best of luck!!

The Norwalker August 15, 2017 at 5:43 pm

Hi

Norwalk and 7 other towns in Fairfield County and two towns outside of Harford pay just as much tax as the other 159 towns combine. Norwalk’s personal incomes are some of the lowest in Fairfield County yet Hartford is cutting our state funding as if we were Westport or New Canaan. It is just not right especially since there are many individual towns in Connecticut that have higher personal incomes than Norwalk.

https://ctmirror.org/2016/05/09/how-does-your-town-fare-under-the-state-budget-deal/

Non Partisan August 15, 2017 at 9:55 pm

We can blame the state or we can blame ourselves.

The simple facts are we elected Duff and co and have been short changed

& McGuire is correct in his analysis. There is plenty we can do for ourselves.

And there is much much more. End illegal apartments, and endbiurbsanctuary city policies. These cost us much much more than the $4mm loss in state aid.

MarjorieM August 16, 2017 at 2:17 pm

This is a Connecticut problem, not just a Norwalk problem. To use this information to promote or to discredit candidates for mayor means you are a mendacious spin doctor.

Rick August 16, 2017 at 9:17 pm

“How does the taunting and name calling of politicians get us the budget we want?”

It doesn’t call the ones who voted them in names ,look around the room the problem is sitting right there in front of you.

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