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Rilling issues 2018-19 capital budget recommendation

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling would like to move ahead work on a soccer field at West Rocks Middle School and the Broad River baseball complex.

NORWALK, Conn. – The game of Norwalk budget pong continued Thursday as Mayor Harry Rilling recommended a 2018-19 capital budget that is substantially higher than that recommended by the Planning Commission.

Rilling recommended $41 million more than the Planning Commission recommended and $2.4 million more than Finance Director Bob Barron to reflect “my priorities of investing in the Norwalk Public Schools by fully funding the second year of the city’s aggressive 5-year capital plan which includes $172.8 million of improvements to our Board of Education’s facilities and other capital needs along with improving the quality of life of our citizens by continued investments in our parks and maintaining the city’s infrastructure,” he wrote in his letter to the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

“I have also included in the plan’s year four and five the design and construction of both a West Rocks soccer complex and Broad River baseball complex at $2.1 million each,” Rilling wrote.

The budget now goes to the Board of Estimate and Taxation, which will make its own recommendation and submit it to the Common Council by April Fool’s Day. The Council makes its decision by April 15.

The Planning Commission including funding to design a West Rocks soccer complex and a Broad River baseball complex in 2018-19 but no money for construction, Rilling wrote. His recommendation plans design in 2021-22 and construction the following year.

The Planning Commission recommended funding 43,748,000 for Jefferson School and Columbus School in 2019-20, but Rilling has those funds in this year’s budget, he wrote.

Rilling cut the Board of Education’s district technology request by $441,000, “to a level in line with historic expenses,” although Norwalk Public Schools Chief of Technology, Innovations and Partnerships Ralph Valenzisi has said increased investments are necessary to deal with cyber security threats.

Rilling recommends delaying repairs to Norwalk fire stations to put off $410,000 in expenses for a year. Apparatus replacement was reduced by $195,000, with the expectation of funding in 2021-22.

Rilling cut the Department of Public Works request by $905,000, which includes $400,000 requested for North Taylor Avenue drainage, $150,000 from construction of new sidewalks, $100,000 from traffic systems enhancements and $75,000 from Main Library improvements.

“The Redevelopment Agency’s Wall Street Improvement project was reduced $500,000,” Rilling wrote. “This is an ongoing annually funded project which currently has available balances in the project accounts for ongoing projects yet to be completed. The Director of Finance and his staff are working to ensure that existing available funds are fully utilized to ensured appropriate funding of redevelopment initiatives and that all commitments to match grant funds are not in jeopardy.”

13 comments

Bob Welsh March 16, 2018 at 11:19 am

Why does building the soccer and baseball complexes cost $2.1 million each? What’s being built?

Piberman March 16, 2018 at 12:31 pm

Well documented sharp declines in City homeowner property values owing to excessive taxation of homeowners who provide 90% of the City’s budget appear to not have influenced City Hall. So the decline in property values and exodus of long time homeowners will surely continue. Many of us expected Mayor Rilling to leave a different Legacy for our City.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 16, 2018 at 12:31 pm

The Water Pollution Control Authority requested, and will receive, $9,000,000 in the 2018-19 Cap-Ex budget to pay for system upgrades necessitated by all the new apartments. $4,000,000 in infrastructure upgrades have been approved for West Avenue. That’s THIRTEEN MILLION DOLLARS of TAXPAYER MONEY to pay for upgrades that should fall to developers. The mayor is asking for a 4.2 million dollar “soccer and baseball complex” smokescreen to appease sports fans and parents, including one Planning Commissioner who has repeatedly asked for exactly these things.

WARNING: Objects in Mirror are not as Shiny as they Appear!

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 16, 2018 at 1:10 pm

Property revaluations add complexity to the funding picture for Norwalk. As Bob Barron recently noted, changes in property valuations have resulted in unanticipated losses. For example, 800 Connecticut Avenue has been reassessed and is now deemed to be worth more than 11 million dollars less than it was previously. Manresa’s assessment is down nearly 10 million. 467 West Avenue, home to the future Pinnacle property, received a 2 million dollar reduction in valuation—see above where taxpayers are funding needed infrastructure upgrades to make the Pinnacle and Waypointe feasible.

Maybe the mayor can find money to hire a qualified commercial property appraiser so we don’t leave money on the table in lost property tax revenues. This may require the forfeiture of the communications person recently approved by the Common Council.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 16, 2018 at 1:18 pm

And then there’s this—by a vote of 12-2, the Common Council recently awarded Grasso a 2.9 million dollar paving contract. Thank you to Travis Simms and Faye Bowman for objecting to the awarding of a multi-million dollar contract to an entity that is an habitual violator and which owes back taxes. Sadly, the other 12 CC members are fooled by the name change from father to son.
https://www.thehour.com/news/article/Council-approves-2-9M-paving-contract-with-12753414.php

As long as Norwalk is run like this—by a few people in relative darkness—we can expect our property values to continue to stagnate, our grand list to either shrink or stay flat, and our taxes to go up and up and up while developers are given special favors like enterprise zones, TOD overlays and free infrastructure upgrades on our dime.

Is any of this sinking in yet?

Another Opinion March 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm

Based on the commentary here, Norwalk appears to be on a higher tax rate /lower property value trajectory. Are there any revenue projections or pro-form comprehensive financial analyses which illustrate how all the new development will be net beneficial or hurtful to city residents? Or the growth rate in school enrollment? I would think someone/someplace has projections.

Ron Morris March 16, 2018 at 6:02 pm

Odd how Rilling cuts DPW and the fire department and doesn’t seem to cut one cent from his buddies at the police department. The fire department has some trucks that are 20 plus years old. On the other hand, just last year the police department got new motorcycles to replace 4 year old ones. Keeping in mind that motorcycles are simply a toy for the PD and are only used a few months per year. Also let us not forget about the out of control overtime at the NPD. I guess it pays to have the former police union president as Mayor.

Piberman March 16, 2018 at 7:09 pm

Has anyone notice over in Westport the tax hike is a mere 1.2%. What is it that makes Westport, one of the nations wealthiest towns, demand tightfisted control of its Town Budget while Norwalk dances to a very different drummer ?

Piberman March 16, 2018 at 7:30 pm

Donna:

Commercial property owners, having major legal resources, traditionally challenge municipal property assessments. Often with considerable success claiming their properties are depreciating in value because of age, competition from new structures, etc. So over time the tax contributions from the commercial sector typically decline putting a greater burden on homeowners who accrue about 90% of our Grand List. Unless there’s very major commercial new building. Norwalk, with a very modest private commercial sector, mostly sees some new small apartment buildings added each year.

So what to expect from the reval ? Homeowners share of the tax burden will increase. Even though housing values have sharply declined. Not remained stagnant. (See US Census figures for median values in Norwalk from $485 in 2010 declining to $425k in 2016 latest figures). The upshot is that City homeowners will be paying higher taxes and getting closer to the magic 2% tax as a percentage of property value. Once that well known target 2% is reached most cities continue to experience further declines in property values. It’s the experience of cities all across America.

Everyone of CT’s once healthy and admired cities has gone through the 2% trigger of property taxes as a percent of property value. (Save Stamford). Norwalk is right at the edge. Given CT’s and Fairfield County’s lackluster economy there’s every reason to expect we’ll very soon hit the 2% magic “bullet”. That puts Norwalk on a glide path towards Bridgeport.

Only 2 options are open to us. Either a major retrenchment in City outlays. Or an unusually large expansion of commercial properties. Neither seems likely. So we know Norwalk’s future. And why so many long time homeowners are seeking to exit. And very few new homes are built in our City.

Rick March 16, 2018 at 11:50 pm

Apparatus replacement was reduced by $195,000

That is about half of a ladder truck or 1 and 1/2 engines

@Ron

They use to post the ages of all the trucks and all the cars and boat related equipment.

This was the most recent I could find but there has to be something updated

In 1984, the department bought three Sutphen pumpers built on Pemfab chassis to replace the rest of the front-line pumpers. A Sutphen 85-foot tower ladder was purchased in 1985. In 1994, the department also received two vehicles, a pumper and a heavy-duty rescue, from the Marion Company. Both were built on Spartan chassis.

In 2000, the Fire Department purchased a second Marion pumper. The next year, the department also purchased three Spartan chassis. They remounted the three Pemfab pumpers on these new chassis.

In 2005, the department bought a second Sutphen tower ladder, and in 2007, another Marion-Spartan pumper was delivered. The 2007 pumper marked a return to a red paint scheme after 25 years of white fire apparatus. The pumper was painted traditional red with gold lettering and red wheels. These had been the department colors from the 1920s until 1979. A third Marion pumper and a new Marion Heavy-Duty Rescue vehicle were also delivered in 2009.

Of course it would be nice to have exact ages on everything ,

Now that Waypointe has been built and the city is growing

total runs for 2009 5,410

TOTAL runs for 2016 9,739

the year stats before most budgets get lost until after the pie is cut.

Whats odd is this year i doubt if it went down like 2016 the way 2017 was.

Wait till the mall begins with just simple calls for workers inside the mall.

I could be off on my numbers but I doubt it , whats important is that the firefighters are backed by the city with state of the art equipment with a mall a rail yard hotel nursing homes and what 3,000 new units or is it more this year?

Someone from the fire dept should add to my thoughts and tell us what went on in 2017. This would help the city understand you cant cut corners with the firefighters. Screw the Redevelopment Authority and the parking authority.

Thank you Nancy and Eric for letting me post this info, in advance.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 17, 2018 at 12:41 pm

Why would anyone give the mayor attaboys for things in the capital budget? He’s sitting on a pile of our money—over 55 million at last count. What has the mayor done to reduce the burdens on homeowners? Our property values are stagnant. Our economy grew a measly half a percent, compared to our neighbors, whose economies grew three and four times as much. Our grand list has not grown. Even worse, we’re giving money back to developers and commercial property owners in the form of reassessments. The mayor asks for a new spinmeister, and the Common Council says yes (except for Faye—thank you). Homeowners are paying for infrastructure improvements that should be paid for by developers. Land use boards—almost all of whom are the current mayor’s appointees—keep approving developments seemingly in defiance of ongoing plans and studies. And there is a pervasive sense among some of our esteemed public servants, whether elected or appointed—that we owe them something rather than the reverse.

Rick March 17, 2018 at 4:09 pm

@ Adam

Clearly whats not in the budget is a problem and please tell us what was so great , a lot of us missed the positive things .

They failures were hidden by the democratic party having a party .

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