Lisa Brinton Thomson is an unaffiliated mayoral candidate.
Lacking a state budget, Governor Malloy took it upon himself to create his own. Fair enough. The bad news is Norwalk is getting hit hard. On the Norwalk Parents for Education Facebook page, BOE Chairman, Mike Lyons announced that the Governor plans $4.4M in cuts from our already short-changed ECS funding. This would be on top of a potential off-loading of teacher retirement expenses, possibly later this year. These cuts will have a devastating effect on our schools and would be tragic in light of the real progress made in closing the achievement gap and providing school and curriculum choice to our families, due to the efforts of our more functional, non-political Board of Education.
Our state legislature, known for its steady habits seems consistent in short-changing Norwalk. For every dollar we send Hartford, less than 10 cents comes back. It’s been this way for as long as I’ve lived here.
Over the past year, dozens of articles have been written about Connecticut’s finances. Slate’s article, Trouble in America’s Country Club, highlighted the state’s economic woes and changing landscape in corporate America. It speculated GE and Aetna’s reasons for leaving weren’t only due to high taxes, but because the state was stuck in the middle, with an identity crisis. With no major city, Connecticut has nothing to distinguish itself once the tax incentives disappeared. The article’s only bright spot was the rise of mid-sized cities, attractive to the next generation of younger, entrepreneurial, more internet driven enterprises. The article referenced New Haven.
Why not Norwalk?
We’re the sixth largest city in Connecticut, with the longest stretch of Long Island Sound coastline, a river running through our historic downtown, vast amounts of beautiful open space and parks, with four train stations – an hour from New York City. What gives?
Connecticut’s legislature isn’t alone in their steady habits. City Hall continues to shortchange Norwalk due to its lack of a strategic plan. A vision has never been put forth by this administration and it’s evident in every aspect of our city, especially our approach to long range planning and zoning and its impact on the budget. Consider the following:
- An increase in law suits, due to poor P&Z regulations that costs taxpayers. We end up with useless properties once suits are settled.
- A lack of ordinance enforcement. Absentee landlords illegally and unsafely subdivide their buildings, charging pricey rents to poor families with children, who in turn, demand services from a city shortchanged in property taxes.
- Increased apartment density on West Avenue, with no infrastructure investment. The impact on the system from traffic to sewers goes without saying. Reopening the Wall Street train station alone would increase tax revenues, not to mention adding value and stabilizing the apartment base.
- Parking downtown is out of control. The administration is trying to give away a city parking lot on Main Street for $1, while paying double fair market value for another lot a half mile away. All because future planning for the library was never considered. Why not revamp parking altogether and remove the fiscal burden for local businesses downtown?
Resolving these issues alone far exceeds the $4.4 million in cuts we may see from Hartford. However, without a strategic plan, Norwalk will never realize its full economic potential.
We can’t rely on Hartford to create our future. Norwalk needs to save itself. It needs a strategic plan for the City like the plan adopted by the Board of Education for our schools. Norwalk needs a mayor free from the conflicts of party politics and developer campaign contributions, who isn’t afraid to say what he or she stands for. We need to move beyond the cronyism and status quo that has kept us from becoming a modern city. We need competency at City Hall and we need it now.