Correction, 10 p.m., Dec. 15: Bob Barron is Chief Financial Officer. Updated, 10:43 a.m.: Copy edits, revised headline
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Common Council members on Thursday began considering the Norwalk Board of Education’s budgetary needs for 2019-20.
The BoE working draft budget calls for a $12.1 million increase, Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said at a joint meeting of the BoE and Council Finance Committees in City Hall. $10.3 million of that amount is needed just to maintain current services, Hamilton said.
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story
Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Bob Barron projected a $920.8 million increase in the grand list in the recent property revaluation, and a 3.1 percent drop in the mill rate. Barron said he expects that the tax levy will go up 4.2 percent; his estimates don’t include a possible draw from the fund balance, known to some as the “Rainy Day Fund.”
The preliminary discussion came one day ahead of the Norwalk departments budgetary requests coming in Friday, Barron said. The Board of Education must submit a budget request by Jan. 15.
“The focus of our special meeting tonight is really to share information so that we can have an open dialogue going forward and both Committees clearly understand the budget goals and objectives for the upcoming 2019-20 budget cycle,” Council Finance Committee Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) said.
“I think it’s good that we understand each other’s needs and try to work around those the best we can, within the constraints of finite resources,” BoE Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek said.
Another joint meeting is planned in January, Meek said.
Up-to-date financial information isn’t yet available as the audit of 2017-18 isn’t complete yet, Barron said. His plans do not include increases in intergovernmental revenue.
Since the City pays for BoE workers compensation claims and debt service, as well as pension and insurance costs for non-certified NPS employees, Barron listed the expected expenses showing a three percent increase in those total costs, or $5.7 million.
But there’s good news, he said: moving NPS employees from Medicare Supplement to Medicare Advantage saved $2 million. This helped even out the decision the City made last year to draw down $2.6 million from the BoE’s insurance fund.
Barron also warned that the plan to build two new schools and renovate old schools will increase debt from $28.5 million to $44.2 million in “five short years.”
Hamilton predicted $678,000 less in state funding next year, with a $978,512 drop in the Special Education Excess Cost Grant due to improvements made in in-house services, and a $509,664 increase in the Alliance Grant, in addition to a $216,110 increase in federal funding.
The working draft budget cites $2.3 million in contractual salary increases. Transportation costs are forecast to go up $1.2 million and a category described as “other” rises by $5.5 million, which includes a $1.2 million addition to the Special Education budget and $1.3 million for benefit impact.
Moving out of the “current services budget” increases, the working draft includes $2.6 million for strategic operating plan investments, with $416,000 for choice programs and $600,000 to meet the state required 26-credit high school graduation goalpost.
“I know the $12.9 million is a lot of money. It’s a big ask and we expect the Council to look at it in reasonable way,” BoE member Bruce Kimmel said. Kimmel explained that the Board developed three-year projections and this is “the last big request.”
Council Majority Leader John Kydes (D-District C) laughed.
“We consider these catch-up budgets,” Kimmel said.
Neighboring communities have already implemented the increased high school graduation requirements and Norwalk is up against the state deadline, BoE Chairman Mike Barbis said.
“I really hope we can have an amicable conclusion to this budget cycle,” Kydes said. “I believe we have common goals and hopefully we can work this out where we don’t chase residents away because (of) taxes and yet we continue to move our schools forward.”