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Barron: Meek’s interpretation of Rainy Day Fund is way off

Norwalk Finance Director Bob Barron, at Monday’s Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting in City Hall.

Norwalk Board of Education Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek. (file photo)

Updated, 2:30 p.m.: Clarifying information.

NORWALK, Conn. – Board of Education member Bryan Meek has a fundamental misunderstanding of Norwalk’s Rainy Day Fund, Finance Director Bob Barron said Monday.

Meek on Sunday emailed Barron a Freedom of Information Act request looking to know how much Norwalk has in its Rainy Day Fund. Barron on Monday said it’s too soon to provide an updated figure on that total, as an audit of 2016-17 is not yet complete.

Mayor Harry Rilling said Saturday that there is $47 million in the Rainy Day Fund, with the expectation that state funding reductions could affect the amount in the future. Told that Meek has been seeking the information, that he feels there is a lack of transparency on the issue, Rilling said that the Rainy Day Fund total is public information, not a secret.

Barron said Monday that Rilling’s $47 million estimate was based on the audit of the 2016-17 operating budget. That was the figure on June 30, 2016, he said.

Meek, in his Sunday email, said that Barron is withholding the information from the BoE Finance Committee chairman.

Meek wrote:

“It is my understanding that you are reluctant to share the people’s information and have denied the NPS Finance Department’s request (at my request) to provide this data, citing the reason that the external audit has not concluded on the City’s 2016/2017 fiscal year.

“This is not acceptable that the City’s largest department (Norwalk Public Schools) should have to guess as to the health of the City’s financial reserves in the midst of creating budget proposals for the FY 2018/2019 year.

“The city’s financial health, whether audited or unaudited, should not be a matter of your department’s privilege.  The last number that has been made available to the public is reflective of the June 30th, 2016 closing date.  Operating on 16 month old data is not just archaic, but does a tremendous disservice to the city’s stakeholders.”

 

 

“The City of Norwalk has yet to complete the audit of its fiscal year ending (FYE) 2017,” Barron explained Monday in an email. “Last week Tom Hamilton emailed a request from Mr. Meek to me asking for my draft estimates of the city’s ending fund balance for FYE 2017.  As you know, draft documents are exempt from FOI production requirements.  I did; however, inform Mr. Hamilton that I expect to review the FYE 2017 preliminary audit at the end of this month and will publish the final audit results by December 10, 2017, along with providing a link to the FYE 2016 final audit results for his review.  I believe that Mr. Meek has a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the city’s fund balance as he demonstrated in his opinion piece in The Hour on October 12, 2017.

In October, Meek said to NancyOnNorwalk, “In February, it took a lot of arm twisting and there was unnecessary acrimony, in my estimation, to get just $2 million out of the Rainy Day Fund. So, all of sudden today, $5 million, $10 million, it’s no big deal. So even if all this stuff falls through they are going to go in the Rainy Day Fund and make our budget whole, that’s the way I took that.”

Barron continued, “The city’s general fund balance is established to serve as a financial buffer against contingencies—those potential future events that cannot be predicted with certainty.  When adequately funded, an unanticipated event such as a significant drop in municipal funding, can be absorbed without an impact to the city’s bond rating as long as there is a plan to restore the fund balance to an adequate level of funding in the future.  This situation is entirely different than the one that Mr. Meek presented, which is a draw on the fund balance to fund the on-going operational expenses of the city’s Board of Education which will have to be funded each and every year, rather than a one-time draw for an unanticipated event.  Mr. Meek also quoted a $10 million loss of funding which is a figure that was never released by the Mayor’s administrative staff.  I published an analysis on September 29, 2017, on the impact of the Governor’s executive order on the statutory grants listed for Norwalk that totaled only $5.7 million.  I believe that Mr. Meek’s exaggerated claims and fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the city’s general fund balance is counterproductive to the discussions taking place on how to address funding shortfalls from the state.”

Barron said in a Monday afternoon phone call that he is actually planning to release the statistic ahead of the usual schedule; it’s usually released in January.

Monday evening, Barron told the Board of Estimate and Taxation that he doesn’t expect that the Rainy Day Fund balance to have changed much since the end of 2016-17, when it was listed by auditors as being $47.3 million, “but I would prefer to release the exact numbers when they’re done in just a few short weeks.”

6 comments

Sue Haynie November 7, 2017 at 5:23 am

What was that Rilling said about his working so well with the Board of Ed? Taking credit again where none is due.

When someone in the City doesn’t want to give out information, they say, ‘It’s in ‘Draft Form’, thus not covered under FOIA. It’s a dodge.

The most important part of Barron’s explanation is “Last week Tom Hamilton emailed a request from Mr. Meek to me asking for my draft estimates of the city’s ending fund balance for FYE 2017. As you know, draft documents are exempt from FOI production requirements.” Why not just answer the question Mr. Barron?

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 7, 2017 at 6:44 am

What a load of bull from Bob Barron! The exemption of draft documents from FOI requests is the technicality that enables Barron to deny the request. But it is unimaginable that the city has “about” 47 million in reserves and the Finance Committee Chairman cannot get his hands on a solid figure on short notice.

A request was made for an accounting. The audit is done annually. But financial holding amounts should be readily available to Barron. Presumably the funds are under management and not stuffed under mattresses at undisclosed locations around the city.

Bryan Meek November 7, 2017 at 8:30 am

Well, there you have it. My FOIA request has still not been replied to. Transparency and cooperation. Who is the taxpayer here again?

Drewt November 7, 2017 at 9:10 am

What are we hiding here?! Why can’t Barron answer the question?! Like Bryan said WHO IS THE TAX PAYER HERE?! And like the Mayor said THIS IS NORWALK TAXPAYERS MONEY! So answer the question Mr. Barron!

Bryan Meek November 7, 2017 at 9:32 am

Drew, what isn’t being hid here is the true contempt for taxpayers. The fundamental misunderstanding here is who works for who. Every one knows what a rainy day fund is for. I’ll give you one guess what would happen to you in the private sector if you told your boss you needed over 5 months to close the books.

Missy Conrad November 7, 2017 at 1:52 pm

Do remember also that our economically strained municipality is part of a nation, our United States of America, the Congress of which has chosen to devote $700 Billion to our military, even more than President Trump requested! In recognizing that our federal government has been & is being disconnected from proper funding of state & local needs, we & our state legislators must tell Congress that we can not maintain “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense (sic: lower case in our Founders’ English), promote the general Welfare, & secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves & our Posterity,….” How can there be such limited government in this age of big banks, corporations & internationals & tremendous population growth? A common balance is healthy. On the news show “60 Minutes,” the then head of GE, Jeff Immelt, told the interviewer that his international company did not owe allegiance to any nation, but only to the stockholders of GE (of which he was one). The upcoming tax overhaul in the Congress is to be followed- Please see: US Conference of Mayors, Resolution on Nuclear Weapons, 2017 (& every one since 2010).

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