To the Editor
With contract negotiations now underway, Norwalk taxpayers would be well advised to pressure city officials — the mayor, BOE and BET — to put taxpayer interests ahead of our highly overpaid school teachers. Two years ago, the Arbitration Panel Report detailed that city school teachers were the 5th highest in the state but city incomes ranked only 19th. No other city in CT showed such a disparity between teacher salaries and residents’ incomes. Our continued stagnant property values reflect that abhorrent disparity.
There’s no mystery how that disparity arose. Past city officials — the mayor, BOE and especially the BET — failed their assigned duties to protect the public interest. In no other CT city have incomes changed just 10 percent over the past two decades amidst a whopping 55 percent increase in city spending. That’s failed government. The results are all around us — years of stagnant property values amidst a national housing boom. And a city that’s becoming a city of renters who now make up one-third of city residents. Prospective city newcomers understand all too well the connection between punitive property taxes, stagnant income and stagnant property values. And move elsewhere.
Two years ago the BOE, under the stewardship of Chairman Mike Lyons had the “right stuff” to take Norwalk’s NFT — reportedly the most hostile teachers union in the state — to arbitration and won a resounding victory for city taxpayers. In their brief, the NFT argued that Norwalk was one of the wealthiest communities in the nation and could well afford continued pay hikes. Would that statement be true! Residents are advised to read that NFT brief to learn how the NFT views Norwalk — just a “gravy train.”
Mayor Rilling, who enjoyed unprecedented support by our hostile NFT, will be called upon to demonstrate firm resolve in contract negotiations. And, the BET despite its chronic absence of financial experienced members needs display firm resolve to protect citizen interests. Even the Common Council, whose finance chairman is a former school teacher, can join the chorus of putting taxpayers first.
Norwalk has paid a terrible price in lost property valuations and reluctance of business firms to invest here because of the punitive taxes levied to give lofty salaries to our school teachers who return the favor by living outside the city because of our high property taxes and under-performing schools. No other city routinely appoints citizens without financial backgrounds to its financial board nor appoints former school teachers to head its Common Council Finance Committee. Such indifference to established norms begets bloated budgets.
Now is the time for taxpayers to put pressure on city officials and demand they put taxpayer interests first. The difference between city incomes and city teacher salaries reflects poor judgments. Let’s encourage the BOE, BET and mayor to have the collective fortitude to take the hostile NFT once again to arbitration if necessary to seek the very best terms for city taxpayers.
Indeed, with teacher salaries 5th highest in the state there’s a strong argument for no increase in Norwalk’s next NFT contract.
Peter I Berman