Updated, 5:54 p.m., comment from Bruce Kimmel, emails attached; updated 6:10 p.m. Feb. 4 to remove ambiguous language to make it clear this is a budget recommendation only.
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s finance director on Friday released a 2014-15 capital budget recommendation that is $2.7 million higher than it was expected to be one year ago. Much of that increase would go to one-time expenses at the Board of Education, including $1.7 million for school safety.
Thomas Hamilton’s recommended 2014-15 capital budget is for $22.36 million, of which $19.78 million would be paid from the general fund. The rest would be paid by a $628,838 Local Capital Improvement Program (LoCIP) state grant and $1.95 million in Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) revenues.
The five-year plan calls for a gross expenditure of $108.4 million, a net expense to the general fund of $91.2 million. The city is expected to pay off $86.3 million of capital debt in that time, so the overall debt would increase in that time by $4.9 million.
Hamilton has projected an increase in taxes of 1.8 percent over five years as a result of capital expenses. In submitting a capital budget recommendation last year, Hamilton projected a 1.3 percent increase over five years.
“There is nothing on the horizon to suggest that other expenses will be going down to offset increases in debt service; indeed, all indications are that costs such as charter-mandated pension contributions, health insurance costs and various other expense drivers will compound future expenditure growth,” Hamilton wrote in the letter, attached below.
Common Council Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said Wednesday that the BOE’s capital request is likely to be funded.
“These are one-shot expenses and the interest rates are low, so hopefully we can figure out a way to fund it,” he said.
Hamilton’s recommendation includes $2.4 million for Common Core State Standards. Common Core would be bonded over five years instead of the customary 15- to 20-year period. Last year, Hamilton had projected spending $1.4 million this year on Common Core. The BOE had requested a total of $4,164,200 over the two years going into the 2013-14 budget. With this year’s recommendation, the BOE two-year approval for Common Core implementation would total $4,458,200, about $300,000 more than originally requested. The original two-year request was made before Superintendent Manny Rivera was hired.
Officials said at Wednesday’s combined Common Council Finance Committee/ Board of Education meeting that the school safety expenditure could have been avoided, but Norwalk missed the opportunity to qualify for grants to cover the expenses. Norwalk got $40,000 in grant money for school safety when it was possible to get much more, Rivera said. The grant money was based on a percentage of what had been budgeted for school security.
“Had we budgeted this amount a year ago, or half that, our grant would have been significantly higher,” Superintendent Manny Rivera said.
The capital budget request for the Rowayton Elementary School construction project has jumped by $400,000. That is because a state audit of another construction project has not gone the way Norwalk had hoped.
“The anticipation was that Norwalk was going to be getting up to $400,000 back from the state in reimbursements on the Norwalk High School project. … That turned out not to be an accurate expectation,” Hamilton said. “At this point, we have a couple of issues to potentially contest with the state, but the bottom line is for planning purposes we shouldn’t assume that we’re going to get anything back.”
Mayor Harry Rilling praised the BOE and Rivera for coming to the table with what he portrayed as a realistic budget.
“I want to applaud the Board of Ed working with Dr. Rivera to put together what I believe to be a very reasonable request for this year, something that I believe has not happened to this degree in the past,” Rilling said. “I think they worked very hard.”
Public Works is recommended to receive $8,798,000 in Hamilton’s 2014-15 capital budget plan. Last year’s Finance Department projection called for $10,128,000. The department would get $5 million for paving.
“Not every department is going to be 100 percent happy, but certainly I think the most important priorities are going to be included in the recommendation that comes out,” Hamilton said Wednesday.
“While I have not had an opportunity to go through the details of Mr. Hamilton’s recommendation, I am pleased that the BOE is receiving the funds necessary to implement common core and to enhance school safety,” Kimmel said in a Saturday email. “Also, I applaud his recommendation to continue our yearly road paving program to the tune of $5.2 million and to recommend an additional $500,000 for sidewalk repair. I look forward to going through his entire recommendation.”
There is a A Planning Commission public hearing on the capital budget at 7 p.m. scheduled for Wednesday has been postponed. Until 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, in the Common Council Chambers.