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Election 2019: Facts versus Fiction

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Another municipal election is upon us, which means that as voters we may find ourselves at odds or in different camps on many of the issues affecting us as the local level. That’s a healthy part of our democracy. What I find less healthy is when voters (or candidates) make decisions on these issues using deliberate misinformation. Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, black or white, young or young-at-heart, we may and will disagree on the best way to navigate our City’s future, but we should, at the very least, agree to basing our positions on reality, not on unsubstantiated talking points.

I’ve heard some folks say, for example, that Norwalk has become too over-zoned, with “fortress apartments” and insufficient infrastructure. The *fact* is the majority of Norwalk is still zoned for single-family homes. Our urban core is growing, which some may disagree about, but the hyperbolic doomsday language is obviously unproductive and misleading. Part of that growth, for instance, has included renovated public park space in South Norwalk. And the city is paying more attention to utility and transportation infrastructure than it has in decades. Also, if anyone tells you that they can “cap” the number of residents in any town, they are insulting your intelligence. (Or worse, they are parroting some of the same thinly-veiled racism that has infected our national politics.)

It’s worth noting that when the Maritime Aquarium was being built a few decades ago, there were similar reactions about overcrowding and capacity, none of which have proved true.

I’ve heard that renters don’t contribute as much or aren’t as invested in Norwalk as homeowners. Besides the *fact* that that apartment owners do, in fact, pay property tax, and that many renters have been here for decades, renters also contribute in so many other ways. I rented an apartment here for three years before my husband and I bought our first home. We supported local businesses. We went out to dinner. We grew to love this city so much that we decided eventually decided to invest in a house. Renters are an important part of our ecosystem, who help our businesses grow and thrive.

I’ve heard that our taxes are high and that the City spends too much. As a taxpayer, I would always welcome lower taxes, but the *fact* is, according to the CT Office of Policy and Management’s most recent Municipal Fiscal Indicators report, Norwalk actually spends less per capita than our suburban neighbors and has a lower debt per capita than New Canaan and Westport. The percentage of our grand list that relies on residential property is also less than the state average, and property taxes make up a lower percentage of our total revenue than Wilton, New Canaan, Fairfield, Stamford, Ridgefield, Darien, and Greenwich. I am not saying we will agree on every policy (again, healthy disagreement is vital), but we should at least agree on the facts. Don’t let political talking points cloud the actual reality.

Finally, I’ve heard that City Hall is too bureaucratic, and run by what some call “crony capitalism.” Admittedly, I don’t have a stat-sheet on that, but my personal experience has been that Norwalk is lucky to have dedicated public servants doing their best every day to make this city a better place. Crime is down in every neighborhood. Our schools are getting better and better. The men and women serving on boards and commissions volunteer their time and expertise, often without thanks or appreciation. The city is leveraging digital tools more and more to make government transparent and open. Have you been to a Common Council or Board of Education meeting recently? We’d always love to have more public participation.

I know everyone’s experience may be different, but again, based on the *facts* I am enthusiastically supporting Mayor Harry Rilling for reelection as our Mayor. Other candidates have offered talking points, but we shouldn’t tolerate anyone spreading misinformation or bending the facts to serve their own purposes.

Public service is not always fun or easy, but we can make it better by not resorting to ad hominem allegations or hyperbolic statements. I like to assume that all the folks running for office, whether Republican or Democrat, are doing so because they want what’s best for Norwalk. Can’t we all at least agree on that?

Colin Hosten

At-Large member of the Norwalk Common Council

20 comments

Sue Haynie October 13, 2019 at 6:29 am

@Colin Hosten, anyone can cherry-pick their ‘facts’. Funny, you say “we shouldn’t tolerate anyone spreading misinformation or bending the facts to serve their own purposes” and then you go and do exactly that. Did you not notice that?

Fact: Norwalk has high property taxes, period.

Fact: Norwalk pays for Two Mayors at $150K+/year each + a Communication Director. That’s bureaucracy.

Jason Milligan October 13, 2019 at 7:11 am

This opinion piece says that it is a fact that renters pay property tax.

That statement is false! Owners pay property taxes.

Crime has gone down in every neighborhood. Really? Maybe, but over what period of time? By what standard?

The catch all word “crime” is pretty vague.

2019 Facts vs Fiction.

This must have been the fiction. When will we get the facts?

Lisa Henderson October 13, 2019 at 8:48 am

Colin, Although you don’t represent my district, maybe you can check and see why my neighbor’s taxes went down ~$1,000 and mine went up over $3,000 for similar properties. Something is not right when I’m paying almost $7,000 more. My grass is greener, does that count?

You are minimizing facts. What about the tax incentives where we are giving away millions of dollars to a select few? Let’s leave our suburban towns out of this and deal with the issues in Norwalk, we have our fair share.

While the majority of homes may be single family, why don’t you give us the facts about how many apartments have been added in the past 5 years. My guess would be a heck of a lot more than single family homes or condos.

Let’s also agree that we have some major issues to deal with in our city. Let’s talk about the problems that we are facing and how to rectify them. We need solutions. I need a tax break.

Bernie S. October 13, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Is this not written by the guy with a whole year in Norwalk, who unsuccessfully ran for state rep and then was handpicked by the mayor for a seat on the council? I’ll add a charge of insiderism to the one of bureaucracy…we need change

Elizabeth Gibbs October 13, 2019 at 3:51 pm

Take another look Janson Milligan. He said ” Besides the *fact* that that apartment owners do, in fact, pay property tax,” Owners, not renters pay taxes on property they own, but they charge rent based in paart on the amount of the taxes. When taxes go up, rents generally go up.

Bryan Meek October 13, 2019 at 4:04 pm

Yes, when taxes go up, rents generally go up to. For example, my business property tax just went up 150% in the shopping center I rent from and my rent is going up. I might be able to raise prices on my customers to accommodate this and they may decide to go elsewhere. I could also find similar office space for less in another town and take the economic activity with me. If you want to see the larger effect of this, look at the near record high vacancy rates in Stamford and Norwalk office space. Those used to be jobs that paid income taxes. Now they are just buildings that pay ever increasing property taxes. This happened in White Plains where many buildings were left to seed and later knocked down. History always seems to repeat itself wherever people don’t learn the lessons from it.

Bryan Meek October 13, 2019 at 4:06 pm

Oh, one difference, commercial tenants generally pay the property taxes….so yes, mine went up 150% in one year. I can probably afford it, but some of the lower margin businesses in my plaza are going to have to raise prices or move or just fold given the 50% mandated increase in labor costs for entry level jobs in the next 4 years.

Jason Milligan October 13, 2019 at 5:38 pm

Elizabeth Gibbs, forgive me for misreading the eloquent statement;

“Besides the *fact* that that apartment owners do, in fact, pay property tax, and that many renters have been here for decades, renters also contribute in so many other ways.”

There is nothing wrong with renters. Many are contributing citizens, especially long term residents.

What threw me off was “renters ALSO contribute in so many other ways”

I assumed Also meant in addition to…

This op ed is the opposite of fact based.

I really didn’t get the point of it. It rambled and made little sense.

Paul Lanning October 13, 2019 at 7:13 pm

Mr. Hosten’s letter doesn’t name the candidate(s) he believes to be guilty of:

“deliberate misinformation”…
“unsubstantiated talking points”
“hyperbolic doomsday language”
“insulting your intelligence”
“some of the same thinly-veiled racism that has infected our national politics”

But he does offer a clue:
“I am enthusiastically supporting Mayor Harry Rilling for reelection as our Mayor. Other candidates have offered talking points, but we shouldn’t tolerate anyone spreading misinformation or bending the facts to serve their own purposes.”

The only “other candidate” is of course Ms. Brinton, who offers a detailed plan based on residents’ input, and who hasn’t engaged in any of the misconduct alluded to by Mr. Hosten.

Paul Cantor October 13, 2019 at 9:29 pm

@ Sue Haynie. Unsubstantiated expressions that represent a point of view as if it were fact are often referred to as loaded terminology. Examples: fake news, low wages, mindless bureaucrats, obscene profits and high taxes.

Nobody likes to pay taxes. So most people think the taxes they pay are “high.” Are their taxes high relative to the taxes of others? Are the benefits they receive in return for the taxes worth it?

Might the city continue to maintain the services Ms. Haynie thinks it should maintain if it lowers taxes? If not, what services would she cut? And how much would cutting those services save taxpayers?

@ Jason Milligan’s claims that “Renters don’t pay property taxes.” That is not true. The rent landlords charge covers the cost of maintaining the property being rented including property taxes. So in fact renters pay property taxes indirectly.

JustaTaxPayer October 13, 2019 at 10:52 pm

I’m surprised I see no mention of the Russians trying to unseat the Mayor. I’m glad we’re back to reality. Thank god for people like Ellen Degeneres and Elton John

Bernie S. October 14, 2019 at 2:10 pm

Nancy…if you say so. I was going off of info I thought was on this site from that election…he hadn’t registered to vote in Norwalk until 2017. The only thing I see (via Google) is of him being in Rowayton Woods and Brooklyn before that. Hardly “South” Norwalk.

ALLEN J DESPRES October 14, 2019 at 4:07 pm

The author sounds just like a true developer. Especially when he says that you can’t say people can’t move here and you can’t put a limit on the amouny. I don’t think anyone is saying that. The politicians in Norwalk of both major parties have Stamford Envy. They constantly scheme and are influenced by developers. I have seen this City destroy Mathews Park with Stepping Stones and one parking lot after another. What makes me laugh with all the big developement especially on West Avenue, the Mathews Park as a real park would have been great. Unfortinately this City city has gone out of it’s way to get land that they believe no one will care about.Mathews Park is perfect park as an example of their short sightedness. They would have destroyed Cranbery Park and they were working in that direction about 35 years ago, but someone miraculously came to their senses, and did a great job in preserving it.
I expect another campaign with any other big development plans in the future, and the perpetraters will come up with the same old charges of: anyone who demands balance, will be called all kinds of unflattering names and associations to emphasis their anti progress, head in the sand beliefs.

Mike Mushak October 15, 2019 at 8:25 am

Great letter, Colin!

The sky isn’t falling and Norwalk is definitely getting better every year, but the folks who fear change and fear “others” have their chosen candidate, who has made it clear that renters are the enemy and suburban sprawl is the way of the future.

Maybe if it was 1975, but thats what these folks seem to want, complete with hollowed-out blighted downtowns and widespread poverty that came along with that low growth and collapsed economic base. Thats Lisa’s vision for Norwalk, with population caps and empty office buildings due to lack of talent (thats why Diageo and GE both left, not because of taxes.)

Norwalk has been there and done that, and I say no thanks!

Harry Rilling for Mayor, and vote Democrat across the board!

John ONeill October 15, 2019 at 12:38 pm

Here’s a fact: There’s been explosive growth in the ELL student population. Can you tell me what our current elected officials have done to mitigate the cost to taxpayers?
Here’s another fact: This program has cost $ 225 Million dollars over 10 years, and will only go up
Here’s a Third Fact: We want those ELL students to succeed and we want to embrace what they bring to Norwalk.
Here’s a Fourth Fact: If resources are reallocated this year from other programs poor students bear the brunt of those costs.
Here’s a Fifth Fact: I’ve emailed our Norwalk elected leaders 3 times asking for information on this. Emails must’ve gone to spam, because I haven’t heard back from them.
Here’s a Sixth Fact: ELL students will cost NPS system approx. $32-35 Million this year
Here’s a Seventh Fact: THERE is no plan to handle continued influx of these children in school plan
Here’s an Eighth Fact: Hope is not a plan.
I realize I’m on a rant right now, but it’s just mind boggling that city hall, our state senator, many but not all of our state reps, our congressman have not coordinated a way to pay for influx of immigrants. Other than hoping, which is not a plan.

Isabelle Hargrove October 15, 2019 at 2:15 pm

John ONeill
Well said. But it’s even worse than just inaction. Duff, Rilling, and the chair of the Democratic Town Committee are also deliberately coordinating character assassination campaigns against the opposition and fanning the flames to distract voters from their inability to deal with the realities facing Norwalk.

Who can condone this behavior with a vote? I personally would be ashamed to…

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