Correction, July 26: Planned drawdown is $6 million.
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Democrats are “doing something right,” Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday, citing their recent “overwhelming” electoral victories as evidence.
Rilling accepted unanimous support from the Democratic Town Committee in City Hall, receiving the party’s endorsement in his quest for a fourth term. Rilling won his third term in 2017 with 56% of the vote; Democrats won all four Board of Education seats and 14 of 15 Common Council seats.
The campaign season has begun and people are going to be pointing fingers no matter what, he said, Monday in City Hall.
Up the street, Norwalk Republicans endorsed a slate of candidates, taking many shots at Rilling and his Democrat-dominated Common Council. Residents are “struggling under the current tax burden,” Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton said. “Unable to make ends meet or sell their houses they take them to renting them and … just leaving because this administration has failed to plan and manage our city efficiently.”
Rilling said he’d recently greeted two Norwalk residents who thanked him because their tax bills are $650 lower this year, and they can stay in Norwalk.
The 2019-20 operating budget features a $6 million transfer from the fund balance, according to Norwalk Director of Management and Budgets Angela Fogel. Council members stressed the necessity to reduce taxpayer pain following the property revaluation as the Board of Education budget increased. The drawdown includes $3.7 million for tax relief and $2.3 million for one-time Board of Education expenses, Fogel said.
Some tax bills “went up a bit and others went up more, but it’s based on a valuation,” Rilling said.
The “pointing fingers” include predictions that The SoNo Collection will fail, but those people forget that the mall will employ 1,700 people, Rilling said.
“Can anybody tell me when the Stamford mall closed? That’s news to me,” Rilling said.
Republican hopeful Darnell Crosland on Friday said the Stamford mall closed.
Some people don’t like development, Rilling said, zeroing in on Republican complaints about children moving into new apartment buildings, accusations that the children will cost taxpayers money.
“Would you like to keep the children out? Would you like to have no other people moving into the City of Norwalk?” Rilling said. “Norwalk is the largest city in the State of Connecticut that people are still moving into. Our population has increased because as Mr. (Bruce) Kimmel and others have said, Norwalk is the place that people are starting to take notice of, and they want to be a part of this community.”
Norwalk has a world class education system, and it’s “not often that you find a city and a Board of Education joining forces to work together,” he said.
“No other place that I know of is investing the $150+ million and fixing up our infrastructure so our children can have a school that they can go to of which they can be proud… we are doing it all by keeping taxes historically low,” Rilling said.
Norwalk is working to build two new schools and renovate two existing schools. The 2017-18 capital budget included $93,071,000 for the schools and the 2018-19 capital budget included $59,358,000 for the schools.
“You’re going to hear, Norwalk is not going in the right direction,” Rilling said. “We say it is. Norwalk schools, children are coming into the school system, that’s a good thing…. We are not going to engage in nastiness, incivility, name calling, and misinformation.”
It’s a “blue wave,” he said, calling the Democratic slate of candidates “competent highly professional” and “highly dedicated.”
Up the road, Brinton said, “Our main revenue sources come from homeowners property taxes, that market is shrinking while tax liability is increasing. We used to have a healthy homeowner-rental ratio of 70/30 it’s now shifted to 50/50. Aside from the fortress apartments, once tranquil neighborhoods are littered with cars and satellite dishes, little has been done to help existing residents or small businesses mitigate the unintended consequences and city costs of a more dense and transient population. Bigger has not been better. Ordinance has not been consistently enforced, and quality of life suffers.”
In a statement, Rilling said:
“I am so thankful to receive the unanimous support of the Norwalk Democrats this evening. Since I was first elected in 2013, we’ve accomplished so much together for our great city and residents. We’ve ushered in millions of dollars in economic development and grown the grand list. Economic development can now be seen across the city including the new Sono Collection, Washington Street improvements, new mixed-use developments such as Waypointe and dozens of new businesses opening their doors in Norwalk each year. We also significantly reduced crime and improved our schools. We’ve professionalized city government and made it more transparent using new technology. And, we created a new department to focus on strengthening communities and neighborhoods.
“While some communities are seeing a population decline, Norwalk’s is growing. Young professionals, new parents, retirees – they want to be in Norwalk. We have a vibrant entertainment district, the best beaches and parks in the region, a top-flight school system, and the most generous elderly and disabled homeowner tax credit program in the area. Norwalk is a thriving place to be.
“These days, a lot of people and their political parties are talking about keeping people away, rounding them up, sending them home, and excluding them. My administration and this Democratic Party want to be clear that we welcome everyone to Norwalk regardless of race, color, creed or sexual orientation. We will continue building on our successes by bringing people and communities together. Our administration and the entire Democratic team from the Board of Education to the Common Council are committed to inclusion. As a team we will continue this progress, we will continue to welcome and serve all of our residents and we will continue to be civil in our public discourse.”
Video contributed by Democratic Town Committee member Andres J. Bermudez Hallstrom: