NORWALK, Conn. – It hasn’t been easy being mayor of Norwalk, Mayor Richard Moccia said.
“We’ve had a lot of storms, both economic storms and Mother Nature storms. I think we survived both very well,” the Republican incumbent said last week at the East Norwalk candidates forum as he made his case for re-election.
Norwalk’s finances are in “very, very good shape,” he said.
“I know some people get tired of me talking about our Triple A bond rating, but I assure you that the rating agencies or our financial people do not,” he said. “It’s very important. We have maintained our Triple A bond rating from all three agencies. Our pension fund is almost back to 100 percent from when the market collapsed. We were one of the first cities to set up an OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) retirement fund that employees contribute to. We now have $30 million in that fund. One of the first cities not only in the state but in the whole country of our size that implemented a separate fund similar to a pension fund.”
Yes, taxes have gone up over the course of his nearly eight years in office, but look what you’ve gotten, he said.
“There is always concern about taxes, but we have tried to balance the collapse in the economy with moderate tax increases to ensure that we maintain all of our services,” he said. “We have maintained our services. I think that our performance in the snowstorm was evidence of that. I think other cities were shut down for 10 days, we were up and running within three or four days, 99 percent of it. That was because of the investment we made in trucks and manpower and equipment.”
The city of Bridgeport requested help from the National Guard to dig itself out of the February snowstorm.
Moccia also touted the $30 million he said has been spent on Norwalk’s roads over the past six years and said flooding has been addressed in several areas. The city is looking to alleviate flooding around Burlington Place, he said.
Another reason the city did well with snow? The emergency planning under Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy and Emergency Management Deputy Director Michelle Deluca, he said.
“Unfortunately, after the Newtown incident, we’ve had to do more planning on public safety,” he said. “There’s been a lot of improvements in safety in the schools. I’ve added three more police officers in this year’s budget. They are now school resource officers splitting time between the four middle schools. Hopefully next year I can add more so we can have permanent officers in the middle schools, for each middle school, in more in the elementary schools.”
Education has improved in Norwalk despite budget constraints, he said, pointing to a recent letter to the editor by Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons.
“Quite honestly, we had concerns the way money was being spent at the Board of Ed. My first few years people were claiming we were short-shrifting the Board of Ed. Thanks to when Dr. Marks came in, she brought in some new people, it turned out that we were correct,” he said. “There was a lot of misspending up there. Thanks to the effort made by Dr. Marks, Tony Daddona and Tom Hamilton, from my staff, we managed to correct that, fund our healthcare and this year we were able to restore many of the positions that had to be cut over the years.”
Moccia neglected to mention former Chief Operating Officer Elio Longo, who was credited with finding a $4 million shortfall in the BOE insurance fund last year.
Schools are being renovated, he said.
Next on the schedule are Naramake Elementary School and Rowayton Elementary School. There are two more athletic fields going in at Naramake and Nathan Hale, he said.
Calf Pasture Beach is probably the best beach in the state now, he said. Part of Oyster Shell Park has been rebuilt. Cranbury Park is “phenomenal,” he said.
The switch to single-stream recycling was a little bumpy at first, but the latest statistics show a 60 percent increase in recycling, he said. That’s important because the city sells recyclables for $17.50 a ton and pays $86 a ton to haul garbage away. That’s a $103 a ton savings, he said.
“We’ve made improvement in the parks. We’ve improved our infrastructure. We’ve maintained our financial position, our emergency planning, restored much of the cuts that we had to because of the economy,” he said. “There is no easy solution. You’re not going to govern by cliches and you’re not going to govern by statements that we can do better. You have to perform. We have performed. Have we done everything perfect? No. No city is perfect. We’ve made some mistakes probably along the way but that’s normal. But two mistakes we haven’t made, that’s in emergency planning and in the environment. In saving energy in our buildings and single stream recycling.”