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.
“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.”