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5 takeaways from Norwalk Common Council’s May 14 meeting 

The Norwalk Common Council on May 14

Here’s a look at some action items and updates from the Common Council meeting on Tuesday, May 14. 

1. Mayor Harry Rilling gives update and follow-up praise for response to I-95 crash. 

At the start of the meeting, Rilling took a few moments to thank the first responders for their efforts related to the I-95 crash and fire earlier this month as well as the “remarkable turnaround time of less than 80 hours” to reopen the highway.

“Within two minutes we had the fire department working on the fire—the fire was an absolute disaster,” he said. “Shortly after that, King Industries arrived on scene with their foam truck and did so much to help make sure that the fire didn’t spread. The foam they used did not have PFAS and as a result of that nothing went into the water. So I really have to thank the Norwalk Fire Department, the Norwalk Police Department, Connecticut Department of Transportation, King Industries—I also want to thank the residents and businesses in the City of Norwalk who were very patient.”

He also highlighted the initial $3 million the city received from the federal government to go toward the removal and reconstruction of the Fairfield Avenue bridge, and noted that he hoped more would be on the way.

“Based on that, I think we can feel comfortable that there’ll be more funds coming and this will not be something that falls on the back of Connecticut residents alone,” he said. 

2. The Council voted to approve two contracts related to city-run events and received a presentation on special events; Mayor floats special services district.  

The council voted unanimously to approve a $34,000 contract with Placer Labs, Inc., for a data software unlimited license that city officials said will allow them to quantify the “return on investment for our events.”

“The software is able to track sales tax revenue increases, which will say ‘The day before our event our sales tax was this, or one weekend before, their sales tax revenue was this,’” Sabrina Godeski, the city’s director of business development tourism, said. “Then the weekend of our event, we can actually calculate and see that increase in sales tax revenue which directly correlates to increases in sales for businesses.” 

In addition, the council voted 13-1 to approve a three-year contract with two one-year extension options with ARC Sound, Stage, Lighting, LLC, which will cost $92,510 for year one, $97,585 for year two, and $102,760 for year three.

The council also received the special events presentation that was given to the Economic and Community Development Committee on May 2.

Council member Jenn McMurrer asked the city to look into cost savings and seek get more sponsorships for these events, specifically in light of the budget conversations this year. 

“There are concerns amongst constituents, especially given our budget talks this year about the expenditures,” she said. “One suggestion I would like to make is that I love these events, but Westport does a really great Halloween event and they don’t spend this kind of money at all—they shut down Main Street, they have all the businesses participate in trick-or-treating. It brings people into those local businesses and it’s a hit. So that’s one suggestion I would make is just, can we look at the cost savings?”

Council member Heather Dunn also noted her concern about some of the costs of the events.

“A budget has to come before everything else—we’re talking about the events and return on investment and what money you want, but I really need to see a budget of where each line item thing is going and what the wish list is,” she said. 

Council member Josh Goldstein said he believed investments like these events help to bring in commercial businesses and customers. 

“As we generate increased business revenue, that is going to help our taxes and help really what is the fundamental budget problem we have right now, which is that we have a lopsided tax burden on the residents versus commercial,” he said. “We need to re-right that ship. Investments like this are helping us to re-right the ship.”

Rilling noted that in Stamford, the city has a special services district, which through a tax provides programming and events in the downtown.

“We tried to put that forward—it didn’t really take off because a lot of the businesses were not ready to contribute,” he said. “But I think if we look at some of these things that we’re doing, and say, ‘Hey, if you want these to continue, if you want these to get bigger, bigger if you want them to be in other parts of the city, let’s talk about a special services district where you can contribute because you’re going to benefit from it as well.’”

3. The Council voted unanimously to extend a no-cost contract with Eyerecycle for pop-up events that allow for the collection and recycling of glass bottles and cans.

Eyerecycle is a Connecticut-based business that allows residents to drop off their cans, bottles, and glass for recycling and receive money for bringing in their items. The company hosts pop-ups in the city, allowing residents to bring their items for recycling.  

“The program continues to be an efficient way for residents to redeem their deposit bottles,” Thomas Szabo, the city’s waste and recycling programs manager, wrote in a memo. “The program continues to see growth as the increase in the redemption value per can or bottle has caused more residents to start redeeming their beverage containers.” 

4. The Council unanimously approved agreements with the state to access $11 million in grant funds for the Webster Lot project. 

Norwalk has so far received $11 million from the state for this project: $3 million from the Department of Economic and Community Development through their brownfields grant program, and $8 million from the department’s community investment fund program for infrastructure work on the site. 

But in order to access that funding, the city had to enter into agreements with the state, according to Brian Bidolli, the director of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, which has been in charge of the city’s efforts on this lot. 

Bidolli described the Webster Lot project as the “redevelopment of the existing surface parking lot into a 430- to 480-unit mixed-use residential village right there in the heart of downtown.”

 “I know it’s been on the books for a long time. There’s been a number of planning studies all the way back to 2004,” he said.

Bidolli said they’ve spent the last six to nine months negotiating with a “qualified developer” and one of the biggest parts of that negotiation is making sure the funding works.

5. Mayor Harry Rilling said his administration is working with the Republican Town Committee to fill vacancies on boards and commissions.

While there were no resignations or appointments on the agenda, Rilling said he met with the Republican Town Committee to work on a list of names that could be used to fill vacancies on city boards and commissions.

“Last week, we did meet with the leadership of the Republican Town Committee to start discussing, working together to find people who may want to serve on various boards and commissions,” Rilling said. “It was a very productive meeting and I think they’ve made some recommendations that we’re considering at this point.”

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