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Kimmel: Norwalk municipal salary list does not tell the whole story

Common Council Bruce Kimmel 004-20130409
Common Council member Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) said some NancyOnNorwalk commenters are spreading false information.

NORWALK, Conn. – When it comes to municipal budgets and labor contracts, there is no easy route to understanding what the figures mean. Sometimes, what seems like a raise or a cut at first glance can be just the opposite – or, at least, a break-even situation.

With the recent wrangling over the new city and Board of Education budgets – and with an election looming – accusations have been hurled that city and school employees are overpaid, and that those responsible for negotiating those salaries have been asleep at the switch or have favored the unions.

We spoke with Common Council member Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) via email to get a sense of the when, how, why and who behind the current Norwalk city contract structures, and he explained that, despite complaints from some quarters about pay increases, there is more than meets the eye.

“It has been the policy of the city and the BOE (Board of Education) for about a decade to reduce the cost of insurance premium contributions in all negotiations,” Kimmel said Wednesday. “Thus, the premium payments made by employees have gone up over this period for every bargaining unit in the city.

“Whenever I look at a new contract, the real issue is not the actual salary increase, but the net cost of the contract to taxpayers. A hypothetical example: A contract may indeed have a 2 percent or 3 percent salary increase, but nonetheless, after the savings to the city from increased employee premiums are factored in, the actual cost of the contract to the city or BOE may, in fact, be neutral; or, in some cases, we may even be saving money. We have been making steady progress in this area.”

Kimmel pointed to an agreement from several years ago making health savings accounts an option for employees.

“A number, if not all, contracts now have this provision, which I have been told is attractive to younger employees,” he said. “These accounts … generally save employers a fair amount of money. The issue is how many members actually enroll in them. I’m not sure what the overall policy of the city is, if we plan to switch over completely to HSAs.”

The city, too, saves money by self-insuring, he said.

Norwalk works with “a variety of consultants on all insurance issues, especially projections for the next year and even monthly claim trends,” Kimmel said. “This enables us to budget properly. The recent $4 million shortfall in the BOE insurance account was the result of unauthorized BOE budget transfers from insurance to special education. The actual amounts that were budgeted for insurance were accurate and thus we had sufficient funds in our insurance and contingency accounts. The projections, however, for special education were the problem because they were too loo; as (outgoing BOE Chief Operating Officer Elio Longo put it, not ‘truthful.’)”

Kimmel said the city and the BOE have installed new software that should prevent this kind of deficit or unauthorized transfers from happening again.

Pension plans, too, have been adjusted, changing the rules for incoming employees and saving the city money, Kimmel said.

“Last summer or fall … the city and the BOE switched over from a defined benefit plan for all pensions, which can be very costly in the long run, to a mandatory defined employee contribution plan, which is much less expensive, for all new hires. These function essentially like a 401k, although there are mandatory aspects that (I believe) include the amounts of the contributions.”

Kimmel also took issue with what he said is misinformation being spread by some frequent commenters on NancyOnNorwalk stories, as well as in other media venues. He took exception to statements regarding an arbitration report on the most recent teacher contract.

“The arbitrators did not discover that our teachers were fifth-highest in the state; that is public information that I believe was provided by the city’s finance department, which, as part of the arbitration, issued a long introduction on the city’s overall financial condition. More importantly, the arbitrators were not interested in the ‘fifth-highest’ issue, since we are in Fairfield County. They focused on the salary schedule and even ordered the BOE and the NFT to begin negotiations on a new schedule. That issue was so complicated that it was beyond the ability of the arbitrators.”

Kimmel said BOE attorney Tom Mooney told him he had never seen a schedule like that anywhere, which severely limited any salary increases between the 10th and 17th year of employment.

“The schedule is structured in a way that keeps senior teachers in the system, thereby increasing pension costs with too many teachers on maximum salaries,” he said. “It also does not encourage younger teachers to remain in the city.”

Kimmel said he asked for data on this, but the board was not able to determine all the reasons so many young teachers leave Norwalk.

“Our NFT salary schedule is the opposite of most municipalities, which now are doing anything possible to keep young teachers in their systems,” he said.

 

 

Comments

6 responses to “Kimmel: Norwalk municipal salary list does not tell the whole story”

  1. Piberman

    Only in Norwalk could a pro-union Common Council member say the following:”..the arbitrators were not interested in the “fifth highest” issue since we are in Fairfield County. “That comment is just preposterous. Not only does Mr Kimmel misread the Arbitration Report but he consistently avoids mentioning that our overtaxed City have the 5th ighest paid teachers. Mr Kimmel’s agenda is clear – more taxes always and maximum funding for education. Never mind their high salaries. As a NYCity union public school teacher we shouldn’t be surprised with Mr Kimmel’s tax and spend for eduction advocacy. But no amount of OpEds and comments by Mr Kimmel will obscure the facts about the Arbitration Report and our fifth highest teacher salary ranking in the state.

    With Election Day a coming Mr Kimmel is hard at work campaigning in the media to both defend the 4% tax hike and befuddle the reasons cited by the historic Arbitration Report for a hard freeze saving the City $2.6 million. Hopefully Norwalk Democrats will find other candidates who promise to do their work within the Council rather than with the pen. Norwalk’s school teachers are well represented by their NFT. Lets encourage Mr Kimmel to read the NFT Vanguard. Could be an education for Mr Kimmel as to what reportedly is the most hostile teachers union in the state.

    Finally what matters is not that Tom Hamilton cited state figures on Norwalk’s 5th highest teacher salaries but that the Report cited that evidence among others as reasons for the hard freeze. Even the NFT didn’t challenge the accuracy of the figures compiled by the state. But Mr Kimmel would have us not pay attention because we’re in Fairfield County. We need Council members that represent the City not special interests nor explaining endlessly in the media that everyone else has it all wrong. Come this fall voters will have a chance to say whether they agree with Mr Kimmel’s view of the world.

  2. Bruce Kimmel

    Mr. Berman, for the last few years I had argued in public for the NFT to accept the hard freeze. That is a matter of record. I also called for more imagination in the pursuit of savings, such as using furloughs. It is also well known that I take strong exception to the content and tone of The Vanguard, witness a recent column I wrote on civility.
    .
    I find it interesting that you are so intensely angry by the well-known fact that our teachers are the fifth highest paid in Connecticut. We live in a state where negotiations are governed by binding arbitration and our state uses a “last best offer” system.
    .
    I also find it interesting that you refuse to recognize the simple fact that, after okaying the hard freeze, the major concern of Mr. Mooney and the arbitrators was the salary schedule used in Norwalk. That, too, is a matter of record.
    .
    Do you have anything to say on the city’s efforts to reduce labor costs, such as the introduction of Health Savings Account, negotiating higher premium payments, and adopting a Defined Contribution Plan for all new hires? In the long run, these initiatives will generate millions in savings.
    .
    One final point. I am no longer a public school teacher. Last year, I retired from the NYC system Prior to that I taught Sociology at Columbia University, where I received a Ph.D. in Sociology/History. Because of my Columbia background, coupled to my 25 years as a public school teacher, I was hired last year by NCC, where I currently teach interdisciplinary Sociology courses. In fairness, I should point out that the NCC faculty is unionized, and I am currently a member of SEIU. I am also a member of the UFT’s retired teacher chapter. I am providing you this information so you can find more diverse ways to question my motives in future attacks.

  3. Lisa Thomson

    Peter and Bruce,
    I actually thought Bruce did a pretty good job of explaining the convoluted nature of the salary ranking of teachers in Norwalk. As an older district, located in an older city, in a still older, Super Democratic, collectively bargained state, it all adds up to a pretty scary mathematical equation.

    The complicated salary structure penalizes younger teachers and encourages older teachers to ‘hang in there’ for the bumped up pension. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that it’s a pyramid scheme gone awry. Unless Norwalk, like cities across the state and country figure out how to transition its public sector payroll, to more closely mirror the private sector in terms of salaries and benefits, or the politicians in Hartford figure out a way to incentivize the private sector to create jobs so that young people can earn a living, buy homes and pay property taxes, there won’t be a tax base large enough to sustain our public sector employees.

    Discussing services and finances is painful and unpleasant, but we must, if we are going to right the ship. Drawing a couple of lines from the film Titanic, I remember a scene shortly after the ship hits the iceberg and Mr. Ismay questions the plausibility of the unsinkable ship to which, the engineer Mr. Andrews replies, ” I assure you she will sink, she is made of iron, sir. It is a mathematical certainty.”

  4. M. Murray’s

    A more accurate statistic would be to find out I where our salaries rank in Fairfileld county. A statewide comparison doesn’t mean much do o differing costs of living

  5. spanner

    Count yourself lucky Bruce some of us are capable of posting true facts and information on a lot of things to rile or rattle anyones day.

  6. piberman

    Mr. Kimmel, as a long term Council member you might accept some responsibity for Norwalk’s municipal employee labor costs well in excess of our modest income levels. What rankles many citizens is how come our public school teachers rank 5th highest in the state and more than in any other ? Did it just “occur” or were public officials including Council members not paying attention.

    Is it really the case that our elected public officials have taken all possible actions to curtail municipal labor costs including capping salaries, hiring the most capable benefit consultants, vigorously using arbitration to force down salary/benefits incremental raises, replacing Dept Heads with more capable ones ?

    Is it really true that there is absolutely nothing more that can be done in Norwalk to reduce the escalating costs of municipal salaries and benefits ? Thankfully the BOE had the true grit to go up “against the system”. Many of think there’s much more that can be done. There’s no shortage of capable business people in this City who can provide guidance on how to downsize operations. For example, there’s no provision in the union contracts that prevents the City from reducing the overall work force.

    You, sir, do no public service by attempting to explain our high public school teacher salary ranking by going into details about longevity details. Our public officials just didn’t do their homework. And, that includes Council members such as yourself.

    My apologies to you, sir, for citing you as a NYCity public school teacher. Even in NYCity with a powerful teacher’s union an able administration found ways to curtail the expanding growth of teacher costs. We can’t all be millionaires on the public payroll.

    And its nice to know you have a Ph.D. – an important credential for public service, I suppose. Maybe we can hang out a help wanted sign in the Common Council as follows: Help Wanted – Financial Background useful !

    Municipal finance is an interesting subject Mr. Kimmel. I urge you to explore how Norwalk, once a well regarded City, came to its current condition where an Arbitration Panel’s Report could cite as valid evidence for a full freeze the evidence that our much higher taxes are responsible for our lower property values. Strongly suggest Mr. Kimmel that you read Zillow.com and see for yourself how Norwalk has failed to enjoy the national housing price increase. Just maybe you’ll see the connection between taxes and property values. Or you can drive around the City and see the “for sale” signs.

    When elected officials fail to see the problems that everyone else sees then we know the consequences. Its not an academic problem, sir !

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