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Miklave needs to look at grand list, not Norwalk budgeting process

Norwalk 050513 020
Norwalk’s Democratic mayoral candidates need to notice the number of for sale signs in Norwalk, Peter Berman said.

By Peter I. Berman

NORWALK, Conn. – Like a previous OpEd published by Democratic mayoral candidate Matt Miklave on Performance Based Budgeting the current one on development accelerators sounds promising but without experience in either activity readers may be doubtful of such bold promises. Mr. Miklave is selective in his reading of both the PBB and municipal development economic literature. And he under appreciates the crucial importance of Norwalk’s disadvantage in attracting new business development owing to its much higher property taxes funding excessive municipal salaries, e.g. fifth highest teacher salaries in Connecticut.

No amount of “blue sky” lofty proposals can overcome Norwalk’s tax disadvantage. Mr. Miklave would do well to compare grand lists between Norwalk and Stamford over the past decade. Stamford has leaped ahead. Mr. Miklave would do well to read the arbitration panel’s report identifying much higher property taxes as responsible for Norwalk’s declining property values. While property values are increasing in most communities Norwalk is at best stagnant.

To mount a credible platform candidates need address Norwalk’s long standing number one challenge – punitive property taxes funding excessive municipal salaries. Given his career experience as a labor attorney in a decade as a Common Council member Mr. Miklave is part of the team that put Norwalk out in front in terms of taxes and employee salaries. So its not surprising that he has ignored our budget primary challenge. Indeed, Mr. Miklave seems the candidate least likely to address our tax and employee compensation challenge. The old adage applies perhaps – those who helped make the problem are unlikely to find the solution.

Mr. Miklave needs to familiarize himself with the ambitious attempts by his fellow Democrat – Governor Malloy – to rejuvenate Connecticut’s faltering economy with bold development initiatives without desired success. Encouraging a healthy local environment is not rocket science. But it does require an understanding that having a comparative disadvantage in taxes remains a major disincentive towards economic development.

At day’s end Mr. Miklave has yet to put forth a reasonable platform to address Norwalk’s main policy issue – higher property taxes needed to fund among the very highest municipal salaries in the state. It’s not a new issue for Norwalk. Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible. But if a candidate doesn’t address this pivotal issue early in the campaign we know the ultimate response.

Simply put Mr. Miklave has yet to offer a comprehensive program that will reduce the number of “for sale” signs proliferating throughout our city as citizens vote with their feet. Norwalk property owners collectively are forgoing billions of dollars in property appreciation owing to excessive property taxes financing excessive salaries.

Let’s encourage Mr. Miklave to drive around the neighboring communities and then ask the question: why are there so many “for sale” signs in Norwalk. Everyone knows the answer it seems save the four mayoral candidates. We expect better.  Especially from candidates who hope to win.

It’s hard to recall having four candidates for mayor so out of touch with the real bread and butter issues affecting our citizens. Based on their “issues agenda” the smart money has Mayor Moccia earning a fifth term quite handsomely. Norwalk Democrats seem likely to maintain their unofficial designation as “out of touch.”

Peter I. Berman

Former senior policy advisor in Gov. John Rowland’s campaign

Comments

26 responses to “Miklave needs to look at grand list, not Norwalk budgeting process”

  1. Tim T

    The main reason for people putting up the for sale sign in Norwalk is not as Peter Berman states. What I hear from friends ,relatives and in general is the main reason is the out of control crime and the horrid school system. The out of control crime is due to Moccia and Rilling being in denial of this for years. The Moccia machine which Rilling is part of needs to go away so Norwalk can be rebuilt from the mess they made of it.

  2. Bruce Kimmel

    Unfortunately, Mr. Berman continues to mislead people with his assertions that high salaries are the root cause of Norwalk’s perceived budget problems. Just do the math, and remember that the city’s operating budget is about $309 million. Major reductions in salaries would not make a big difference in the budget. The real forces behind our budget woes are healthcare costs and the state’s Education Cost Sharing formula.

  3. David

    I would (more or less) agree with Tim T – and I’ll also add that what Norwalk is missing out on are middle class (and upper middle class) families who don’t move to Norwalk because of perceptions of school quality. They just bypass the city and move up to Trumbull or Derby.

    Now as a parent of school age children, I’ll say this – I like the schools, our teachers have been great, we are implementing Common Core faster than surrounding cities. I have recommended Norwalk Public Schools to friends who were considering private school and they have, in turn, been extremely happy to put their children in public school.

    The problem is the message our elected leaders are sending when they continuously underfund the education budget.

    The city of Norwalk needs to attract high earning residents into the city if it is to boost economic development and house prices. Livability (crime and education being two major factors) is key to that.

  4. David

    Bruce,
    I think we need to learn more about the numbers behind the “health care” costs you mention. You are a frequent contributor to this site, can you prepare something? I don’t doubt you, it’s a huge topic all across the country, but we need to know the extent of the issue.

  5. Adam Blank

    For those interested in facts, the state publishes mill rate information: http://www.ct.gov/opm/cwp/view.asp?A=2987&Q=385976. Norwalk’s mill rate is below average both countywide and statewide.

  6. Bryan Meek

    Mill rates are adjusted based on the grand list to end up at revenues. It has no basis for comparison to other towns or cities. Health care costs are going to explode in a few short years because most of our civil servants have what is called a ‘cadillac’ health care plan which will be subject to a 40% tax under Obamacare, payable not by the employee but the city. If we do not act now to bring down the health care expense we will be looking at a fiscal disaster soon.

  7. Tom

    Tim T: You must really be afraid your young man is going to lose to the one candidate that has a chance. Again, you lost your credibility a long time ago.

  8. David

    Bryan: Maybe you can explain a few things for me, in the interest of learning more.

    Mill rates are essentially the “cost-per-thousand” of assessed property value, shouldn’t I be able to use them to see what a house worth $100,000 would be taxed at across CT? Doesn’t that demonstrate the relative tax burden in each of the towns. I know they go up and down each year, but why can’t I use that to compare the tax burden across towns? (now, what you GET for your taxes, that’s a different story, I understand that volunteer fire, etc plays into the costs).

    The “cadillac” tax on health care plans is for plans costing over $27k per family (last I remember). Is that what city employee plans are costing the city? Is there somewhere to get this information? That would be VERY pertinent to Norwalks budget discussions, even outside of future tax hikes.

    I think everyone agrees that health care is an issue – I know it is for my company – my questions are: How much are we spending and what are we doing to reduce it? My company has incentives for participating in health programs, does Norwalk city?

  9. Tim T

    Tom
    I think by you stating “Again, you lost your credibility a long time ago.” about me is against the TOS. I have stated facts and not personnel attacks of other posters.It seems the facts I post concern you.

  10. Bryan Meek

    David, the assessments/revaluations are not done with consistency in mind from town to town but rather within the town itself. Also they are not done in the same years. It doesn’t matter if they say your house is worth a million or ten million. If they need to end up with 10 thousand from you the mill rate would be either .001 or .0001. The mill rate is always arrived at based on the gross assessment of the grand list and driven by the amount of revenue the town needs. That is what really drives it. See OPM for more http://ct.gov/opm/cwp/view.asp?Q=385976
    On health care, I don’t know exacting figures forecast for Norwalk health care expenses or if there are any wellness programs, but Obamacare is not indexed for inflation or geographical cost of living so naturally north east states will end up paying more like we do for everything else due to our higher cost of living. Not a matter of if it will happen, but it will happen and there is nothing we can do about it. All of our elected representatives support it in its current state. At least they do now seeing they don’t understand what it will do to local employers just yet.

  11. David

    “A mill is equal to $1.00 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment.”

    Given that statement, the mill rate now becomes an index of the relative tax burden, across towns and cities. The mill rates obviously vary based on the cities income requirements, but as a mathematical fact, I fail to see how the mill rate isn’t significant when comparing tax burdens across towns and cities in CT.

  12. David

    We can rant and/or rave about Obamacare as much as we want, it’s now the law of the land and needs to be accounted for. The Cadillac tax kicks in 4 or 5 years from now, so *if* there are policies that exceed $27k – and that seems excessive! – we should be negotiating those packages down NOW.

    Regardless of that, healthcare is an issue that is affecting all employers right now. Obamacare (or, the AHA as its officially called) also allows employers to charge up to 30% difference between employees participating in a wellness program and those who aren’t.

    But again, Mr. Kimmel noted it as a problem, the first step to trying to solve a problem is understanding the scope of it.

  13. jlightfield

    Stamford, the 5th largest city in Connecticut has mill rates ranging between 16.73 and 17.89 while Danbury the 7th have mill rates of and 22.45 in 2011. Norwalk ranges between 21.337 and 20.889 because of taxing districts, and different areas of the city receiving different garbage collection and sewage services. Notably the reduction in garbage collection services was in higher taxed districts.

    Fairfield, where so many flock to enjoy the school system is taxed at 23.37.

    From this snap shot it is clear to see that Commercial and Economic development that diversify the tax base relieve the burden from residential tax payers, and that those who seek better city services are undaunted by higher taxes. A lesson lost on policy makers in Norwalk.

  14. Don’t Panic

    Regardless of whether you believe the taxes are high, relatively high or reasonable. The fact remains that Norwalk should be seeking to make the best possible use of every dollar that we do collect from tax-payers. It would seem an approach like PBB could help us achieve that. The accelerators stand to help by increasing our ROI and we do it by avoiding the “race to the bottom” driven by trying to entice businesses with tax abatements. Miklave is on the right track. All new ideas should be backed up with a plan to pay for them.

  15. Bryan Meek

    Their goes Tim T crying once again about TOS. He can sure dish it out, but he can’t take it. You’d think someone hiding behind a pen name wouldn’t be so thin skinned. We can all point out dozens of times Tim has violated TOS in the same manner he cries about. Sad.

  16. Tim T

    Bryan Meek
    Last I checked this article was about Miklave needs to look at grand list, not Norwalk budgeting process and not me. Do my posts bring out the dirty truth about Norwalk that you republicans always try to hide?

  17. Orange U. Glad

    Miklave has been keeping a steady drumbeat on improving the budget process. Does anyone think the system doesn’t need improving (except for the perennially misinformed Peter Berman and Board of Ed candidate Bryan Meek)?
    Berman is convinced that salaries are too high- but can’t bring himself to blame any of the Republicans who signed off on those salaries. Meek wants schools to be run like a corner deli- slice the cold cuts a little thinner when prices go up so you make the baloney go further.

  18. LWitherspoon

    @Orange
    Miklave has “kept a steady drumbeat on improving the budget process” because it allows him to say nothing the least bit controversial and promise all things to all people. We have seen Miklave supporters who are probably teacher union members saying on these pages – with zero supporting evidence whatsoever – that PBB would allow us to have low taxes and a high-paid workforce.
    .
    One wonders why PBB or something approximating it never came into play when Miklave and his party controlled the Common Council. Considering this latest charade and Miklave’s long history of pandering against the best interests of Norwalkers to please narrow constituencies, I’m glad that the Democrats have several better candidates they can choose.

  19. David

    Bryan, are you a candidate for the BOE?

  20. Bryan Meek

    @David. I am not certain of that yet. I have a lot to learn and there are good board members and good candidates who seem to be on the right track with some things. With almost 250 college credits to my name, I do know that education is important. I also know there are council people who haven’t made any improvements in a decade but now want us to believe they have all the solutions. That is hard to take from someone who routinely grandstands at council meetings saying nothing for hours on end, adding no value whatsoever to our governing process.
    Continuing to throw good money after bad is not a solution. At some point this city needs to realize that it has experienced what economists call the law of diminshing returns when it comes to education spending.
    STEM needs in a different form were being discussed when I was at NHS and 25 years later and looking at the school catalog it is still the same curriculum except they have added a 1/2 credit requirement in computers. That is pathetic for the amount of money we have poured into this system. How many curriculum experts did it take over the years to accomplish this? It helps explain why education spending was around 40% of the budget then while it is 60% and growing now.

  21. David

    Public service is a thankless job! Good luck with your decision. I’d have to say, I don’t think the message you are offering here on this site will resonate with parents in Norwalk, in general. Just my opinion, of course, I’m sure I won’t be a major influence in your decision.

  22. Bryan Meek

    David. Spending smarter, not more, is the key. Everyone knows there is inefficiency and waste in the system with what amounts to the same results year after year. A lot of parents of NPS school children, like myself, aren’t oblivious to this fact. True, some parents will continue to parrot what they are told about a lack of funding, but the truth is our shortfalls are from a lack of more sound management principles. Things are moving in a more positive direction, but I am in this for the long haul and there is a lot of work to be done.

  23. LWitherspoon

    @Bryan Meek
    I hope you will run. It’s a thankless job and not a great stepping stone to higher office, but from your comments here it sounds as though you have real-world experience which could be helpful in tackling the many challenges faced by the Board of Ed.
    .
    I have to agree with David in one respect, though – statements like “throwing good money after bad” could easily be misinterpreted by parents as implying that you think their kids aren’t worth it. I think what you meant is, how do we get the maximum bang for our buck? Tax dollars which go to education are our investment in the future. Nobody wants to invest money in ways that don’t yield the desired benefit – in this case, education. Do parents want the Board of Ed to keep paying the skyrocketing cost of “cadillac” health plans, or do they want changes that would allow for library aides in every school? As you’ve said in the past, there could well be a solution where all stakeholders come out ahead.
    .
    I think your question about curriculum specialists is a good one. They may well perform a valuable function, but we don’t know unless we challenge the expense. Bureaucracies grow like weeds and need regular and aggressive pruning.
    .
    Good luck whatever you decide.

  24. Peter I Berman

    Councilman Kimmel’s assertion that high salaries do not cause high property taxes suggests he needs a finance refresher. Salaries do make up the bulk of City spending. A basic understanding of finance and budgets ought to be an essential requirement for a Council person. Ignorance on finance is not bliss in public service. We now have a better understanding of Mr Kimmel’s support for our punitive high taxes.

  25. Frankie_Boy

    Meek claims there is waste in the school department. His party has been in control for three years. Why haven’t they found it? Or did they, and now Meek has to admit that the city schools need more money. Unlikely for a Norwalk Republican.
    I’d comment on Berman’s tom-foolery, but I don’t want to encourage him. I would ask how he thinks property taxes are “punitive”- they might be “high”, they might not represent a “good value”, but they don’t punish people.

  26. Peter I Berman

    Norwalk’ Grand List has remained unchanged for two years. Amidst an expanding economy and increased housing values in almost all national marke areas. Thoughtful discussion ought to focus on reasons for such grand list stagnation in Norwalk. The BOE Arbitration Panel suggested our higher property taxes than neighboring towns are responsible for our stagnant and declining property taxes. Mr Milkave voted for the tax increases and excessive salaries as did Council members generally. No amount of PBB sloganeering can overlook such a record. It takes more than slogans to manage a 300 million dollar budget. To be a credible candidate Mr Milkave needs to study the City budget and propose how it could realistically be brought under control. So far he has presented no evidence that he had either a plan or an understanding of the challenges involved. That Mayor Moccia is satisfied with the status quo doesn’t obviate the necessity for any candidate to do better. Let’s encourage Mr Milkave who reportedly has no real world experience with PBB to show us his financial expertise with Norwalk’s budget process. That’s a good way to encourage support.

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