Lisa Brinton, a former mayoral candidate, recently said it’s too soon to say if she’s running for Mayor in 2019.
Dear Mr. Mayor, BET and Planning Commissioners,
As individuals with responsibility for the overall fiscal health and planning of the city, surely you’re alarmed at the tsunami trend line of expenses coming taxpayers’ way in the face of stagnating revenues? The state and grand list are in trouble. Raising property taxes and drawing on the Rainy Day Fund seem to be our future. You’ll raise my taxes this July, next July and every one after that, until like many others, I’m forced to choose between accepting the status quo or moving out of Norwalk.
Last November, the Mayor claimed unprecedented growth, pointing to his mall, 5000 new apartments with mixed use development, not to mention the $1 billion ‘movable’ Walk Bridge. Add to that, six taxpayer funded studies professing Norwalk’s moving forward that include the:
- Innovation Places strategic plan
- Center Neighborhood Plan for the Wall Street-West Avenue Redevelopment Area
- Parking Authority parking study
- Plan of Conservation and Development
- Hodge Economic Development Plan
- East Norwalk TOD study
Are these studies just smoke and mirrors? They appear to be since spot zoning changes for developers have routinely superseded any and all plans for the city. I want development, but last year our grand list grew at a paltry 0.05 percent, despite larger increases in neighboring towns. Add 2.1 percent for inflation and it’s one step forward and two steps back.
The Redevelopment Agency is very active. Unfortunately, it falls outside the city charter and seems to override Planning and Zoning. Most of their projects fly below the public radar, involve convoluted tax credits and add more students than originally suggested to schools. Improved financial tracking is needed for these projects. Better still, why not fold them back into P&Z?
Then there’s the income and salary issues. According to the 2017 US Census Bureau, local per capita income for our 88,000 residents was $45,000 and median household income $80,000. Contrast that with our largest employer, the City of Norwalk and 3,700+ full, part time and summer employees, where over 20 percent make over $100,000 and 50 percent over $45,000 excluding benefits. How long is that sustainable given all the development that will require more teachers, firefighters and police?
This is why we need stronger leadership, accountability and fiscal management. I’ve long argued it comes from updating the city charter. A dry topic to be sure, but the Mayor seems to think it comes from additional ad-hoc committees and impotent task forces. We don’t need more committees. We need planning and budgeting resolutely focused on outcomes not status quo political turfs.
A prominent politician recently said we needed to stop bashing the state. To which I thought – it’s not the state we’re bashing, it’s the people running it! The state’s issues are now Norwalk’s and we need leadership that will stand up for its residents. Successful cities have vibrant downtowns! They’re not ripped apart by over engineered ‘boondoggle’ bridges or dodgy tax credits for developments or ‘innovative’ business ventures that place additional financial burdens on residential property owners. The Wall Street area’s woes are symptomatic of what ails a city with no leadership. POKO, the outdated library, the various parking lot fiascos and blighted, burned out buildings reflect a political, lackluster history of organizational piecemeal planning, zoning and ordinance enforcement.
Demographic trends favors cities, but they need to be well-managed. Imagine instituting the same multi-year planning as the BOE, directed at real grand list growth instead of the hodge-podge projects we see now? Our school district is the best city in the state, with student results closing in on Wilton! I want to say that about my downtown area.
Mr. Mayor, what do you want Norwalk to be? One thing getting old are promises made in November that turn into budget crises in February, then pats on the back in April and finally larger tax bills in July.