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ECS nothing to brag about in the face of unhealthy city trends

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I watched Senator Duff’s recent press conference, where he touted the proposed state budget as a win for education and Norwalk, while taking a swipe at Republicans.  The swipe was unnecessary, since bi-partisan legislative adjustments were made a couple of years ago for student poverty and English Language Learners (ELL). The result for Norwalk is $1.5 million in additional Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) over two years, but it’s peanuts in the grand scheme of things.  Here’s why.

The broken formula still relies primarily on home property values as a means of measuring municipal wealth. Yet, under this formula, towns with higher incomes, but ‘lower’ home values and virtually no student poverty or ELL students can still get more state money than Norwalk.

Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury take the lion’s share of Norwalk’s income tax dollars.  We pay to educate their students and then pay again to educate our own.  Last year, Norwalk applied $11 million in ECS funding to its $185 million school budget.  Compared to those four cities, whose individual ECS contributions range from $133-$200 million (or up to 75% of their overall school budgets), it’s easy to get cynical.  Norwalk’s free and reduced lunch student population has grown substantially over the years.  In 2004-05, it was 23 percent.  In 2012-13, it was 47 percent.  For the  2018-19 school year, it stands at 57 percent. Escalating student need is not a healthy trend.

The state also seems determined to push the teacher pension obligations back on municipalities. The Teacher’s Pension Fund and State Employee Plan liabilities now exceed $20 billion, accounting for nearly one-third of the state budget. When a portion of these pensions get pushed down to municipalities, local property taxes will go up, as millions in annual costs are added to the school budget.  Hartford also wants municipalities paying teachers more than the state average to contribute more, upping the contribution from 25 to 40 percent.  Guess what? Norwalk pays more.

Exiting businesses and jobs is another unhealthy trend.  The Connecticut Post reported 3400 jobs lost during the first quarter of this year.  Norwalk sees it with departures of Diageo and GE, job cuts at Frontier Communications and the closures of Klaff’s and Lillian August’s Annex. Even Stew Leonard’s has cut some administrative jobs. Connecticut continues to rank nationally at the bottom for business friendliness.  For those staying, the reward is more taxes.

Connecticut’s solution to a weak economy, which City Hall seems to have embraced, is cramming as many people into the Stamford-Norwalk- Bridgeport corridor as is humanly possible. It’s called Transit Oriented Development (TOD). For Norwalk, it’s meant a surge of new apartment units — thousands of them — located in fortress-like blocks along the commuter corridor of I-95, Route 7 and the Merritt Parkway.  We’re turning into a transient, congested city.  Home ownership and values are declining, despite the inflated and botched 2018 revaluation. Scores of residents and businesses are appealing.  According to the 2018 Connecticut Economic Resource database, owner-occupied housing stands at 57 percent, with 43 percent in single and multi-family rental units.  However, real rental percentages are likely higher since these figures do not include illegal apartments or those not yet built.

Last, the 2019-20 city budget required a $6 million dip into the Rainy Day Fund to cover the 3.8% budget increase,  despite the highly-touted growth of the Grand List — which in all likelihood will partially evaporate as residents and businesses work their way through the appeal process.

These unhealthy trends are why I’m running for mayor and challenging Norwalk’s political establishment.  Residents deserve an honest look at the city’s financial health.  We need professional management to address high-density development that has created a shift in our housing stock and ability to fund education.  We also need better policies and city hall practices that encourage business in order to diversify our revenue.  Addressing these issues requires visionary leadership, without conflicts of interest, so residents can be confident their government is operating effectively and fairly on their behalf and communicating as openly as possible.

A strategic change in direction like this would really be something to brag about!

 

Lisa Brinton

 

Lisa Brinton is an unaffiliated candidate for mayor.

9 comments

Piberman May 12, 2019 at 10:54 am

CT Legislators are trying to make history by advocating raising taxes to reinvigorate a decade long stagnant economy that’s been a major embarrassment. And refusing to cut CTs budget in face of another billion dollar Budget deficit. Freshman economics students know the outcome here.

Here in Norwalk the City Hall team is similarly trying to make history by reviving a decade long stagnant Grand List by encouraging developers to build huge numbers of apartments. Not by encouraging major business to build and develop providing good jobs in our challenged commuter history. As did Stamford. Freshman economics students know the outcome here too.

That Norwalk remains CT’s only major City lacking a major office downtown building speaks volumes. Vibrant cities attract both newcomers and jobs. Here our City leaders are bent on attracting ever more renters in the County’s most transient City. We too have a problem with basic economics.

Norwalk Lost May 12, 2019 at 11:52 am

A rarity, a candidate that gets it! This should be the catalyst for the Republican Party to cross endorse Lisa given their poor showing in the last election.

Tommy May 12, 2019 at 1:21 pm

Brinton- You are looking for votes. So how are you going to fix issues you write about?? I have been following along for awhile now and I see a trend. You like writing. And you like blaming. But you do not like writing about solutions. Your solutions are that everybody is doing everything wrong but I won’t. That’s no solution in my book. And neither is your constant tagline about needing “professional management”. That’s just a cop out and more blaming. So give some answers and solutions if you want some votes because I won’t vote for a “blamer”.

Patrick Cooper May 12, 2019 at 1:45 pm

I not-quite fondly remember a carnival ride from my youth – the “Round-Up”. Google it. It is the perfect metaphor for CT and Norwalk politics of late. Round and round you go – up and down – spin and spin making you so dizzy that you don’t realize you actually in reality haven’t gone anywhere. The spin is so strong & effective it takes you some time to return to mental clarity once you stand on solid ground again.

Well, Lisa is solid ground. Once you get clear of the spin – you see her clarity. You begin to understand why a change is needed.

Lisa – wishing you a happy Mother’s Day – and thank you for the courage as an independent woman to pull all of Norwalk off the Round-Up.

EnoPride May 12, 2019 at 4:53 pm

Is Senator Duff “standing up for us”, or is he merely a grandstander? Senator Duff, master of sound bytes, is again spinning the truth, conveying divisiveness, and manufacturing a story to his less informed audience of voters whom he has leaned heavily upon to vote party over policy. CT deserves better.

Duff’s tone deafness as to CT’s/Norwalk’s fiscal health is astounding. If, after all these years, this five term member of the Connecticut Senate hasn’t identified the true reasons for our financial woes which Lisa has so thoroughly outlined, will he ever? I don’t think so. Perhaps Senator Duff should take some nights off from the head spinning volume of dodgeball tournaments, concerts, galas and events he frequents, and do us all a favor and allocate some of this time to studying some good old economics.

Thank you Lisa, for your opinion piece which makes all the sense in the world. Thank you for looking out for Norwalkers. Happy Mother’s Day to you!

Piberman May 12, 2019 at 5:43 pm

It continues to surprise me that Norwalk’s Democratic leadership doesn’t acknowledge the negative economic impacts upon Norwalk from CT’s decade long stagnant economy. Had CT participated in the nation’s most vigorous economic expansion since WWII Norwalk would have been a far more vigorous and well financed community. That CT Democrats are largely responsible for CT’s decade long stagnant economy encouraged by repeated major tax hikes ought be acknowledged.

Mayor Rilling or any other Mayor of Norwalk would have had a much more successful Administration under normal circumstances. Since current and future CT Democratic leadership is likely to continue using tax hikes to advance CT’s economy rather than reduce the CT State budget Norwalk is certain to be further negatively impacted. All the more reason to encourage City Hall to reach out and secure major business investment with good jobs. Given CT’s economic malaise City Hall ought pull out all the stops and secure major new business investment to our City. Our continued well being depends on securing major new business investment and good jobs. Not more apartment buildings and more renters.

So far there’s no “program” suggesting Norwalk either reduce expenses/taxes or making a major thrust to secure new business/jobs. So we’re looking very much like how CT itself is managed. That’s not encouraging. Imagine what could be achieved by reducing the City’s budget/taxes and pulling out all the stops to secure major new business investment. That ought be our City Hall policy thrust. Rather than business as normal. We know where that leads. And so does all of CT.

DrewT May 13, 2019 at 10:33 pm

This RTC Member is strongly endorsing Lisa as the NEXT MAYOR for Norwalk and I encourage every member in the RTC to do the same!!

Non Partisan May 17, 2019 at 7:28 pm

The fixes to Norwalk are simple.

Enforce zoning

Moratorium on any new subsidized housing

End our sanctuary city policies

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