Norwalk budget cycle begins with consideration of whopping increase

Norwalk Finance Director Bob Barron issues financial projections Thursday City Hall.  The grand list is going up by nearly $1 billion, he said.

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.”

Norwalk budget 18-1213 20181214

NPS budget 18-1213 20181214


Sue Haynie December 14, 2018 at 6:23 am

Homes in my area, according to Tyler Tech, increased on average 13%…but the reality is, their was no increase in value,there was a decrease. Several neighbors tried to sell their homes and gave up after months of little interest and low-ball offers. My area isn’t the only area seeing this.

A Tyler rep said this 2018 appraisal didn’t adjust for the $10,000 cap on combined property and state taxes (aka SALT)–Tyler Tech rep said that SALT impact would be considered during the NEXT reval in 5 years.

Norwalk’s taxes are unsustainable.

Mike Barbis December 14, 2018 at 7:49 am

You need to make a correction — SPED spending is not up by $1.2 mm but is down by that amount …this is due to last year was the final installment of the City funding the SPED Development Fund ($1.2 mm) and that funding is now over.

Bruce Kimmel December 14, 2018 at 8:09 am

To elaborate on why the BOE considers the 2019-20 request the last of the catch-up budgets.

In 2008, the state mandated Cambridge evaluation of the city’s school system was published, and we did very poorly. Then, there were three state mandated reports on our special education services, and again we did very poorly.

Three years ago, the BOE, working closely with the Mayor’s office, adopted a plan to completely re-work special education. That plan has been implemented. The Board also adopted a multi-year plan to bring its general education programs in line with current state standards. For instance, we had the shortest school day in the state, our high school graduation requirements did not meet state standards, and we had no real intervention programs for struggling students.

This plan was long overdue and costly But, again working with the Mayor’s office, we were able to implement it. The request for next year, which is admittedly large, is the last major step in the implementation of that plan. The Board’s budget projections show a steady decline afterwards.

carol December 14, 2018 at 9:30 am

enough is enough-we cannot afford these increases,the boe is going to have to lower their expectations or have a special relief fund for seniors.
it is getting down to food or medication,this is how norwalk wants to treat their senior population?

EnoPride December 14, 2018 at 10:45 am

“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.”

Norwalk residents have already been chased away because of increasing taxes for many years now, which is not a new theme. While educational funding alone is not the sole reason why Norwalk taxes are increasing, underfunded and under supported schools are the reason those Norwalk residents have been fleeing for several years. The people who choose to move to other towns don’t feel our schools are adequately managed/budgeted/invested in, and therefore are not yielding results to their standards, which kind of turns Mr. Kyde’s statement on it’s head. Council members who blame education spending for driving up our taxes which chase people away use this line as a cop out as to why they cannot give the BoE the $$$ it needs for the schools right now.

My head hurts. The above quote is coming from a man who seemed just fine to frivolously sign off on 15 million dollars of taxpayers’ money to an “in theory”, imaginary Innovation District for Wall Street, where exciting things are innovating organically already (without 15 million of our money) in catalyzing more business to come in thanks to vision of the great business owners and residents of Wall Street and WSNA. Talk about chasing residents away with waste of taxpayer money! Like Mr. Neaderland mentioned a while back, incentivizing developers with taxpayer money does not appear to yield great returns in the long run according to experts who have analyzed the topic. If anything, it is quite often money thrown out the window, which ultimately raises our taxes. When will Mr. Kydes and other council members get out of auto pilot mode, connect the dots and pay attention to what exactly does raise taxes?

Mr. Kydes, if you are going to allocate several million of our money somewhere, don’t throw it out the window on an imaginary Innovation District, which would certainly raise taxes in the long run. Invest it in the not imaginary realm of education, where in the big picture, the money will yield great returns if spent intelligently and strategically (this BoE is seeing positive, result driven data for all their great planning, and want to keep going in that trajectory), which will in turn keep residents from fleeing in droves, attract more home buyers to Norwalk, and as a long term result, stabilize taxes.

Will Erdef December 14, 2018 at 11:06 am

Unsustainable – this increase is not within the realm of reasonable and unfair to our seniors and retirees. Chop chop chop! How can this be the last large increase year when subsequent years require higher spending than the prior years per state mandate? I fear there is too much group think here and the risks of this spending on home prices and forcing residential departures have not been fully considered. Finally to the BOE, please be diligent about the spending and leave capacity for when teachers pensions become the city’s responsibility. The worst of the state’s fiscal crisis has yet to be fully understood on the local level. Tread carefully!

Norwalk Lost December 14, 2018 at 11:17 am

So with the detrimental impacts of SALT not fully absorbed on grand list valuations and the pending financial doom in Hartford, the BOE is ramming a multiyear old school plan without cutting spending for risks unknown? Even a bit? Insane!

Piberman December 14, 2018 at 11:21 am

Comes down to who is more important. Homeowners financing virtually the entire City budget seeing falling housing prices and ever more punitive tax hikes. Or financing lofty salaries of our well paid public school teachers/administrators – paid comparable to the surrounding wealthy towns – educating children of our ever more transient renter City (40% and rising) who leave our City upon graduation.

Norwalk Democrats support our public Unions. Who supports hard pressed homeowners ? Not City Hall.

Or is the only solution to keep calling the movers and putting homes up for sale ? Despite the excessive outlays on our public schools potential homebuyers are not buying homes in Norwalk. Our problems are widely publicized. And growing.

Patrick Cooper December 14, 2018 at 11:35 am

Look carefully at that slide. Over the past 3 years – all under the leadership of Harry Rilling – we have seen our cumulative tax levy increase by 10.5% – or in real dollars – the city budget has increased by 32,750,00 – that’s an average of plus 10 million per year.

This city has a spending disease. Only the voters can provide a cure. Will they?

Me? I’m going to start a business. It’s going to be called Un-Kydes Moving & Storage – we’ll help you get your overtaxed dupa’s out of town! .

EnoPride December 14, 2018 at 12:57 pm

Patrick Cooper, I’m with you. The city does have a spending disease under Mayor Rilling, and for what in return? Seemingly no accountability, no comprehensive performance evaluations for an excessive amount of city workers with inflated salaries and obligatory annual bonuses (insane waste of taxpayers’ money!), no measurable results, increasing taxes and decreasing property values. I could not believe how quick the Common Council was to vote in throwing 15 million of our money at developers on a make believe Innovation District. Just grossly irresponsible with our money.

Seems many residents feel we are overspending in the education sector, while many like myself feel the current BoE is doing expensive damage control from years and years of mismanagement, Superintendent musical chairs, inflated salaries of “dead wood” teachers and administrators (some, not all, of them), growing as we post, which are unsustainable (Look at the city salaries list – a staggering volume of teachers make well into the 100,000’s and creep up in salary year after year. Where’s the cap? And, do the teachers’ all warrant such inflated salaries AND obligatory annual increases? Some absolutely do, but some absolutely do not.), lack of accountability and measurable results which has cost us dearly. Damage control is very expensive to clean up. If a school system has been mismanaged forever and has been allowed to get out of control, of course it will be more expensive to mend than if it was adequately maintained all along. That this BoE is picking up the pieces and actually moving things in the right direction is commendable, and the budget they are asking, while it sounds high, seems appropriate for what they are proposing. Yet City Hall awards that kind of money to developers with no expectation of a return yielded… Go figure.

Debora Goldstein December 14, 2018 at 1:26 pm

And still we fiddle as Rome burns. The incremental increases to our budget from the BOE three year plan is the tip of the iceberg. The ten year Plan of Conservation and Development is in the glide path for approval in January. Recommendations within this document will be increasing budgetary impacts for years to come. Note this little gem from page 10 [EMPHASIS IN CAPS MINE]:

Study and create a stormwater utility to fund maintenance and improvements to the stormwater management system. A stormwater utility provides DEDICATED FUNDING (like other utilities) for stormwater management costs by CHARGING PROPERTY OWNERS in relation to their contribution to stormwater. Typically, nonresidential owners pay according to their impervious surfaces and RESIDENTIAL OWNERS PAY FEES related to property type and size. New London is the first Connecticut municipality to establish a stormwater utility (effective January 1, 2019). There are almost 1,600 stormwater utilities in the United States, including in Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont.

Note that this is likely to require another authority, similar to the Water Pollution Control Authority, which will assess additional fees to manage stormwater runoff. Storwater runoff management that is ALREADY THE CITY’S RESPONSIBILITY.

Kathleen December 14, 2018 at 1:27 pm

In the pending BOE minutes, it states that
“Dr. Adamowski said that the School of Distinction Pilot Program is estimated to cost $14,000,000, and
that there is interest from philanthropies to fund it with a substantial pledge from the Grossman Foundation and from Heidenreich Family Foundation.” If this does happen, who is going to pay for this to continue and expand?

I don’t recall this being mentioned to all stakeholders, certainly not parents. This also is to be a year round school so the school selected would need air conditioning. What is really galling is that this “distinction” is happening whether it’s good for taxpayers (or students) or not. DO THE MATH!!!

Non Partisan December 14, 2018 at 1:27 pm

At the risk of being a broken record

– charter schools

Reduce school enrolment by
– strictly enforce residency requirements
– strictly enforce zoning to eliminate illegal apartments.
– end our sanctuary city status

Then increase the grand list by
– moratorium on any new mandated subsidized housing components
– allow free market redevelopment of Sono.

Patrick Cooper December 14, 2018 at 3:47 pm

@EnoPride – let me be clear and draw a distinction between “spending” and “investment”. I am in full agreement with your perspective on the BOE issues and “ask”, it is really spot on (short of naming names, like the 4-horsemen of the Aegean Stables once out’ed in an email trail).

I am fully supportive of the BOE’s and Dr. Adamowski’s strategic plan, the reforms and modernizations long overdue, the facilities upgrades, etc. There is no better way to improve the city’s fortunes than by dramatically improving the school system. But understand the state imposed statues and local union work rules make the rational compensation arguments you make all but moot. There isn’t a chance our local unions would allow for merit based salary and bonus structures. We are handcuffed.

My “spending disease” issue is spilled all over this blog and in The Hour daily. Like adding a million dollars to the city hall costs via a reorganization that improves nothing, has no performance or ROI metrics, is intended to live in perpetuity, and will only grow as baked in salary increases and benefit costs continue to spiral north – as always. It’s to your well stated point on the “innovation” district, 15 million for ….nothing. It’s the massive legal fee’s and costs (many 3rd party) related to gross, amateur mismanagement, petty ego power plays (like PoKo), a napping mayor who can’t get ahead of Firetree, etc. The list is endless.

As for @Non Partisan – those are logical, sensible, economically reasonable thoughts on actionable issues that have virtually zero chance of gaining support by this 1-party administration. Can you imagine what this city would look like if the 25,000 plus people who won’t show up on the census were to depart for greener pastures? Over 20% of our rental housing stock would be vacant.

john flynn December 14, 2018 at 6:12 pm

Quite shockingly an anonymous letter was slipped under a door that prompted all the parents of all the NECA students to panic. Not a single Parent was contacted. The BOE intend to reduce the credit to the NECA Students at the high school that go to NCC that will force many kids to go back attend Norwalk High School to fill basic requirements. So the kids go to school to earn college credits in Computer Science, courtesy of IBM, who we appreciate. A gaggle of ne’er do wells want to … another business that has the interest of the kids at heart and spends money to give opportunity to Norwalk’s next generation. If the Board of Ed is so short sighted as to scare IBM away like Ct showed GE the door, they will have to come up with all the money those kids will need for the credits that the BOE intends to take away. Find another $1.3 million.

Those kids each signed a contract. It will be the BOE that forces those kids to break there contracts with NCC and NECA. No one I have spoken to cares if there child is number 13 or 9 in the class out of 480. Stick a fork in me but don’t hurt my kid. NECA is the finest educational program for kids in this City. Protect it. CGS 54-33d Interference with the performance of a contract.

Edited to remove a vulgarity. https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/comment-guidelines/

Non Partisan December 14, 2018 at 6:44 pm

@ P Cooper

The resultant vacancies would be backfilled by market forces as nyc become more unaffordable.

School class size would decrease

Pressures on school system would significantly abate on an educational, facilities and enrichment programs. Middle school athletics could be funded by decreased ESL costs. SPEd costs would decrease dramatically.

Let’s face the 800 kilo gorilla in the room.

Ken December 14, 2018 at 8:28 pm

The Board of Ed is out of control. They are the reason for the out of control taxes in Norwalk. The all need to do the right thing and resign.

Paul December 14, 2018 at 9:46 pm

Norwalk residents wake up!! Your property assessment has significantly increased based on illogical inequities. Now the proposed budget will increase by close to 5%. The mayor’s recent video is comical video urges people to come to Norwalk. Why??? Norwalk now is a microcosm of the state of Connecticut (high cost of living, antibussines, high taxes , no long term vision, ridiculous budgets , substandard neighborhoods, irresponsible politicians and public distrust). WE NEED CHANGE!! NORWALK DESERVES IT.

Rick December 15, 2018 at 10:34 am

Would 26 Norwalk bridges over 20 feet in length be considered a budget increase if the dpw gets their $251,200 for the study?

Not for nothing a study for bad bridges is a good thing but how long have they been bad? Is a 1/4 million dollars for a study worth it right now?

Norwalk budget cycle begins is what the subject is Where I am asking if this study the city wants would be in this cycle.

Manuel December 15, 2018 at 8:19 pm

Norwalk’s emblematic status as a sanctuary school district for Central Americans/Latino and multiple other asylum immigrants should be a magnet for grant funding. This can help alleviate the year on year budget strains taxpayers continue to graciously absorb. What success has the school district received with raising outside funds with a goal of establishing and growing an endowment similar to a university system? Also, how can parents get involved?

Joe December 16, 2018 at 12:52 am

We used to seriously debate and cautiously relent to $3 Million increases.

What changed?

Are we wealthier? No.

Are home values increasing? No.

Have academic results improved substantially? No.

If we make another “admittedly large” school budget will the state force us to increase it every following year? YES!

Steve December 16, 2018 at 6:49 am

If property values are going to increase you need to have good schools. Good schools require funding. They also require oversight. Even without the extra funding provided by the neighboring districts multiple foundations (BTW those foundation donations don’t count towards the SALT cap. Moreover these foundations whether for technology or sports bring in millions of dollars), Norwalk schools spend approximately $3,000 to $5000 a student less. If there are 20 kids in Norwalk that illegally attend our schools I’d be shocked, in fact, my guess is that there are far more Norwalk kids in Westport, Darien and Wilton than non-Norwalk kids in Norwalk. Moreover, loads of parents from the neighboring towns move to Norwalk the second their last kid finishes school. AS for illegal apartments- yup in bugs me too— but it’s not the renters who are at fault it’s the owners and City. You can thank the Trump Republicans for getting rid of SALT (first time I’ve ever seen a political party so unambiguously stick it to the States that voted for another party) and undermining progressive, education oriented States, but in the meantime if we are going to compete w/our neighboring towns and states w/lower taxes we need to have better education outcomes.

TOM BELMONT December 16, 2018 at 8:44 am

It’s easy for government people to promote the general tax burden. The Mayor can hide from levy’s by putting talking tax heads in front of him ; pat them on the head and give them a bone. Mean time the city castle, and all of its princes and princesses get wealthier off the blood sweat and tears of the peasantry. “Let them eat cake” they say. And you people in West Norwalk and other homes of highest value will be treated as much a second class citizen as King George to George Washington. Retired seniors? Forget. They see you as expendable; hope you leave. They feel its THEIR city, not yours. They look down on us until its time for milking. They have no virtue, no religion, no honor, no respect.

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