Barron recommends building Norwalk schools, not driving range

Bob Barron, left, then Norwalk Budgets and Management Director, talks about the Oak Hills Park Authority last July in City Hall. At right is OHPA Chairman Ernie DesRochers.
Bob Barron, left, then Norwalk budgets and management director, talks about the Oak Hills Park Authority last July in City Hall. At right is OHPA Chairman Ernie DesRochers.

Updated, 1:40 p.m., comment from Planning Commission Chairman Torgny Astrom.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Board of Education would get what it’s looking for under the capital budget plan released Monday by the Norwalk finance director.

The Oak Hills Park Authority – not so much.

Bob Barron’s 2016-17 recommended 5-year capital budget includes $3 million in the first year and the $106 million total requested by the BoE to address its dilapidated and overcrowded schools – but over four years, not the five requested. It includes a plan to spend $25 million five years from now to upgrade the city’s communication network, which had not been in the capital budget until now.

It does not include $3 million for a driving range at Oak Hills Park. In any year.

The capital budget requests are thoroughly reviewed by the Planning Commission before being sent on to the Board of Estimate and Taxation and, finally, the Common Council. That process is underway.

“The Planning Commission has not yet had the opportunity to discuss the City Departments capital requests,” Planning Commission Chairman Torgny Astrom said. “Our first meeting with the departments last week ended after midnight and the second meeting shortly before midnight. It is, however, safe to assume that the Commission, as usual, will pay close attention to the Finance Director’s recommendations and the city’s overall debt policy, especially for a large single funding need such as the $3 million OHPA capital request.”

OHPA Chairman Ernie DesRochers declined to comment.

Barron, in his Monday letter to Mayor Harry Rilling and the governmental bodies that weigh in on the capital budget, wrote:

 “The recommended $27.0 million FY 2016-17 capital plan includes infrastructure maintenance and improvements as a top priority of the city’s capital budget, specifically: $10.6 million for the Department of Public Works (includes a $5.8 million paving budget); $5.7 million for the Board of Education (includes $3.0 million to implement its facility plan); $4.5 million to the Water Pollution Control Authority; $1.7 million to the Redevelopment Agency; $1.5 million to Recreation and Parks; $1.0 million to the Parking Authority; $0.6 million to the Fire Department; and $1.4 million to the Historical Commission, Information Technology, Human Relations & Fair Rent, Library, and Police.

“The recommended $233.1 million 5-year capital plan includes a total of $112.9 million for Board of Education capital projects (includes $106.0 million to implement its facilities plan); $52.6 million for the Department of Public Works; $25.0 million for the city’s communication system replacement; $16.3 million for the Water Pollution Control Authority; $5.9 million for the Fire Department; $5.5 million for Recreation and Parks; $5.1 million or the Redevelopment Agency; $4.9 million for the Redevelopment Agency; and $4.9 million to the Information & Technology, Historical Commission, Human Relation & Fair Rents, Library, Police and Health departments.”

Representatives of Silver Petrucelli & Associates and Milone and MacBroom recently presented the results of the BoE’s facilities feasibility study, recommending $388 million worth of work on Norwalk Public Schools over the next 10 years in order to address Norwalk’s school building issues. Their most pressing recommendation was to build a new school behind the Nathaniel Ely School and to build additions on Naramake Elementary and Ponus Ridge Middle School; the three projects would cost an estimated $112.7 million, with $78.8 million expected to be borne by Norwalk taxpayers, they said.

“I need time to fully digest the recommendation, but I’m generally pleased that the city apparently is ready to make a major commitment to implementing our Facilities Plan,” BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said in an email.

Slipped into the budget without comment is $500,000 for “Wall Street retaining wall construction.” That was not included in the 2015-16 5-year plan, and no explanation is given.

There is also no explanation of the $25 million planned to be spent in 2020-21 for combined dispatch, other than “investment in the city’s communication network.”

Last year’s 5-year plan called for $27,625,000 in capital spending for 2016-17; Barron’s recommendation is for $26,963,000.

The city’s indebtedness would grow $75.5 million over the course of this 5-year plan.

“While favorable debt ratios are important, investments in the city’s infrastructure, facilities, and projects that have a demonstrable economic payback are essential to maintaining the city’s long-term economic vitality,” Barron wrote.

Norwalk’s Aaa bond rating means it borrows money at the lowest interest rates available in the marketplace, Barron wrote.

He wrote:

  • “Under the Recommended Capital Plan, the city’s total outstanding tax-supported debt is projected to increase from $211.9 million at the end of FY 2015-16 to $287.4 million at the end of FY 2020-21. These figures exclude general obligation debt and state-backed Clean Water Fund obligations which will be repaid from sources outside of the general fund. The Recommended Capital Plan provides for $177.0 million of new debt in the next five years to be repaid from the general fund, specifically: $19.9 million in FY 2016-17; $38.0 million in FY 2017-18; $38.9 million in FY 2018-19; $39.8 million in FY 2019-20; and $40.4 million in FY 2020-21.”
  • “The various departments of the City of Norwalk have requested a 5-year gross capital plan totaling $303.2 million. While all of the capital requests have merit, the city does not have the financial capacity to fund them all while maintaining the debt benchmarks that support its Aaa/AAA bond rating from the rating agencies. Moreover, if all of the requests were approved, it would result in substantially higher debt service obligations and would cause property taxes to increase further. For this reason, I am recommending trimming back the requests to a 5-year gross total of $233.1 million. The portion of this amount that would be repaid from property taxes is $177.0 million. For the upcoming FY 2016-17, I have recommended a gross capital budget of $27.0 million whose net amount to be repaid from future property taxes is $19.9 million.”
  • “The recommended capital budget for FY 2016-17 totals $26,963,000. With offsetting revenues and other repayment sources, the total amount that will be bonded and repaid from property taxes is $19,925,000. With the city’s existing debt profile and with the economy still relatively weak, this is the maximum amount of additional debt that the city can safely afford, while still maintaining favorable debt ratio benchmarks and limiting the impact on future operating budgets.”

Finance Director Recommended FY 2016-17 Capital Budget


2 responses to “Barron recommends building Norwalk schools, not driving range”

  1. carol

    finally someone with a brain-our taxes will go up enough,we should not have to support the golf course for a few people.

  2. Bryan Meek

    Yet we spent $4 million for a farm, $2 million for a mosque, $3 million for a turf field at a Middle School….. I could go on and on with examples where we have spent good money on activities that have far less usage than the golf course.

    And the key word is “spent”, not “loaned”.

    Give Oaks the loan.

    Make our city an even better one.

    The driving range will generate much more revenue than the $3 million restaurant we never should have built.

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