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Common Council, District E: Ernie DesRochers

Ernie DesRochers. (Contributed)

District E, Republican, Independent

  • Describe how your occupation will assist you in serving Norwalk and give three brief but specific examples, including what committees on which you hope to serve.                                          

I am a real estate finance professional with decades of experience in reviewing balance sheets, operating statements, budgets, and debt exposures. Coupled with my previous experience as Chair of the Zoning Commission and as Chair of the Oak Hills Park Authority I will bring a collective knowledge of finance and the inner workings of City Hall to the Common Council. Our debt and debt service will increase in the coming years due to capital commitments that the City has made to fund construction of new schools, sewage infrastructure, and other on-going public improvements like road paving. My experience will be important over the coming years as the days of cheap debt are over due to changing demographics (among other things). The city also needs to look at more efficient ways to manage and streamline government incorporating technology where possible and better staff positions for ordinance and code enforcement, as those last two issues are important to many constituents.

  • The Norwalk Charter is on the ballot for its first major revision in about one hundred years. Assuming it passes, would you support forming a new Charter Revision Commission in the coming term to address unfinished business? What would be your top three priorities for change? Can you explain why?                                                                                                                        

Charter Revision takes a lot of volunteer time and cost with outside consultants. Changes should be done incrementally and not en masse so voters can focus on targeted proposed changes and committee members are not so overworked. The entire rewrite or the Zoning Code had pushback precisely because they did too much at once. I would support establishment of another Charter Revision Commission. That commission should be established by the Common Council and not the mayor since its simply wrong to have one person oversee appointing members and proposing rules that will change the way the city is governed. • Minority Representation. Approving this would guarantee greater balance on both the Council and BoE. The need to hear a voice from all sides is important. • Voting Districts should be rebalanced population wise after the 10-year federal census to establish greater voting equity. • Appoint a City Manager (since we have one now via the chief of staff position) who is held accountable for city operations rather than an individual elected by a decreasing plurality of voters at every election. The City of Norwalk has an annual budget of $423 million with outstanding GO Bonds of $360 million. Few people can manage an enterprise of that size.

  • Do you believe Norwalk should have a Civilian Police Review Board and why or why not?                

No, I do not – Policing is difficult enough without having everyday citizens with no real-world policing experience passing judgment. There are adequate laws in place to ensure that police are held accountable for their actions. 

  • There is a constant public battle between city government, the school board, and concerned citizens. It seems that all are “dug in” with their positions, eager to “defeat” the other to win their own agenda. What would you specifically propose to bring all groups to the table to solve issues rather than fight about them? Policy changes and revisions can certainly be part of your answer.

The school budget represents over ½ of the entire city budget the contention between government entities always is a result of larger than inflation budget increases, unfunded state mandates, and overall funding. Norwalk receives $24.75 million in state aid (2023) and yet we are a diversified city funding programs many suburban districts do not have to fund. Cities like Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven receive state funding well over $225 million annually in State Aid. Norwalk provides over $180 million income taxes (2020), and we only receive $24.75 million back. That does not include collected sales taxes. Imagine if our funding increased by one-third. Taxpayer burden would be much less. Our state representatives and local political leadership in general need to do more for our community to solve this problem. A new high school 80% funded by the state is not the answer.

  • “Housing affordability” means different things to many people. The current standard is based on the median income of Fairfield County, which is $84,233 per household. A job that pays $30 per hour misses that standard by approximately $22,000. What is your definition of Housing affordability, and do you think the standard should be made more equitable?                           

Housing affordability is the biggest issue coastal cities will face over the next 5-10 years. According to the CoStar database, Norwalk currently has 7,204 apartment units, with 649 under construction. Based on recent annual absorption, which represents 2 years of supply. The average vacancy rate is 4.4% and the average market rent is $2,515, up 2.45% since QE2 2023. Vacancy improved 2% over the same time-period. Assuming 30% of your annual income is devoted to rent, the income necessary to pay that is over$100,000. The current median household income in Norwalk is $91,434 (2021). At a state level, state statute 8-30g is being used more region wide to address the affordability issue. Witness new developments planned in Greenwich and New Canaan for example. Darien enacted its own affordable legislation where 14% of total new units constructed must be affordable. I would Nancy on Norwalk Questionnaire Ernie DesRochers District E Common Council Candidate support “friendly” 8-30g developments in the urban core of Norwalk which naturally can manage greater density. Norwalk, to its credit, is attempting to address these issues whether it be changing zoning regulations (less parking, increasing density), creation of ADUs in single family zones, and encouraging affordable housing near mass transit. I support their efforts. That said, changes should be focused in the Urban Area of Norwalk – specifically the area from Washington Street to Wall Street. Developing sites in flood zones along the Norwalk Waterfront is irresponsible. Flooding is still flooding despite precautions and that will drive feasibility due to increase cost of insurance casualty and flood insurance nationwide. We can better utilize city owned parking lots like the Webster Street lot or the lot near Wall Street and Main Street. We can stop endless fighting with property owners in the Wall Street area and produce a comprehensive plan to add new housing on underutilized land parcels. Single family neighborhoods are suburban in nature and should be kept that way. While I support Accessory Dwelling Units, I believe they should not be used as a back doorway to create for rent multifamily housing.

  • What would you propose to move Norwalk’s government agencies, businesses, organizations, and private citizens towards a zero-carbon footprint?                                                                                   

I would not because the technology is not available to achieve that goal. There are minor things that can be done with tree planting and encouraging other modes of transportation but passing ordinances outlawing the use of gas borrowed leaf blowers is nothing more than virtue signaling. The stated goal of those advocating “Net-Zero” is to achieve that goal by 2050. To achieve that all our electric generation would have to be from non-caron sources such as wind, solar, nuclear, and waterpower, not to mention better ways of storing it. We live in an area where none of that works well. Texas is the greenest state in the union and that should be obvious if one has a basic understanding of geography. Battery technology, though improving, will not allow for affordable mass production of vehicles, never mind the process of mining lithium and creating batteries is environmentally questionable at best. We can improve energy efficiency through research and development, but it will take an effort like landing a man on the moon to achieve “Net Zero.”

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