Norwalk austerity means hazards can wait

Rowayton Pond
Ducks shouldn’t be able to stand in this Rowayton pond, residents say. It hasn’t been dredged since the 90s and is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, they say. (Photo contributed by Tia Sidey.)

NORWALK, Conn. – The asbestos wrapped around pipes deep in Norwalk buildings will not be removed. Flammable theater curtains will remain at area schools. A Rowayton pond will remain full of silt, despite area residents having invoked the threat of West Nile Virus as they fought for the project.

Toilets may not be replaced.

Many things are not expected to be included in Norwalk capital budget for 2013-2014.

Finance Director Thomas Hamilton recommended budget calls for $19,649,000 in spending, of which $15,618,000 will be bonded and repaid from property taxes. The Board of Estimate and Taxation will vote Wednesday night to set the capital budget cap.

Requests from city departments totaled more than $35 million.

Included in the recommendation for the department of public works is $5 million of the $6 million requested to pave city streets; not included is the $220,000 requested to pave City Hall’s parking lot. Included in the recommendation for the planning and zoning department is $100,000 for waterway access; not included is the $50,000 requested to improve Norwalk’s gateways nor $50,000 to study the 2010 census.

The waterfront access item would provide funds to create places where the public could get physical access to the harbor and river — in this case, along the riverfront at 40 Cross St. medical offices.

Planning and zoning director Mike Greene made a pitch for the two latter projects at last week’s Common Council planning committee meeting.

“There are many places when you come into Norwalk where, other than a small sign, there’s no feeling of entry,” he said. “Certainly as you drive on Route 1, it’s almost like Long Island.”

Census data shows Norwalk’s demographic is changing, he said.

“We have the data, “ he said. “We have no staffing to evaluate that data, and say what do we do with this to look to the future?”

Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) wondered if other departments were studying the census, expressing concern that there might be a duplication of effort. “Maybe it’s being done by some outside agencies that we’re not even aware of,” he said. “We could just buy it, it could be cheaper.”

DPW Director Hal Alvord said Tuesday that his department request was lower than usual, given this year’s priorities. That includes the traffic signal upgrades funded by $9 million in federal money.

The department is recommended to get roughly the same amount of money it always gets: about $10 million.

Not included is a $100,000 contingency fund for maintenance, although that is usually part of the program, he said.

“Every building in the city is getting a year older every year,” Alvord said. “More things (happen that are) unanticipated – toilets break, or a steam pipe breaks or the heating system goes, or vfd (an HVAC part) fails over here, but you don’t know that stuff in advance. We need a fund for these unanticipated things. That’s the $100,000. None of it got recommended. Things are going to break and we’re not going to fix them right off the bat.”

The $139,000 requested to repair windows at Nathaniel Ely School was not funded; neither was $20,000 for environmental remediation.

“You get down into the some of the utility channels in some of these old buildings, and the pipes are wrapped in asbestos,” Alvord said. “If you’re going to send people down there to do repairs, you want to clear out the asbestos out before you can send them down there. That didn’t get recommended.”

The Board of Education is recommended to get $2.1 million of the $2.7 million it requested for Common Core State Standards, but not the $45,000 it wanted to replace gym equipment, including 13 folding gym partitions that average 46 years of age, described as “problematic and expensive to maintain” in the request. The $192,604 requested to replace flammable stage curtains was denied, but is included in the recommended budget for 2014-2015.

“Stage curtains must be fire and flame retardant to meet NFPA 701 compliance,” the request reads. “All stage rigging systems must be compliant with state and national building codes. Currently this is not the case and, as a result, we are faced with several life, health and safety issues and concerns that require remediation.”

The pond next to Rowayton School drew four or five people to a planning commission hearing last month. The man-made retention pond was last dredged in the 1990s and is nearly full of sediment, according to the Parks and Recreation Department request for $160,000. It could overflow and damage property and city athletic fields.

Stagnant water in summer months is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, according to Ian Sidey, vice president of Friends of Farm Creek, who spoke at the hearing. Mosquitoes with West Nile Virus were trapped in the woods next to the pond last year, he said.

Rowayton Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ed Carlson said a fire hydrant installed at the pond in the 1990s has never worked. “That area of the pond in the shallow area near to the school, if that area if dredged to proper depth it would be an excellent drafting point in the event there was a serious fire at Rowayton school,” he said.

Parks and Rec Director Mike Mocciae said Monday that it still looks like the dredging will not be funded.

“It does need to be dredged,” he said last month. “Whether it’s in my ledger or public works, it’s something that should be as an ongoing basis.


3 responses to “Norwalk austerity means hazards can wait”

  1. Bruce Kimmel

    The stage curtain problem has been around close to ten years. I had been under the impression that the BOE had set aside funds to replace them several years ago; that the issue would be pretty much solved. Since it is a safety issue, I have no idea why it’s still a problem and who is responsible. Bottom line, it should be solved and soon.

  2. Ergo

    While I understand the desire to have everything fixed and replaced, welcome to the reality of the times! Just like individuals, towns are struggling on how to make ends meet with what money they have and priortize special projects.

    Of course one could argue that certain construction projects and new fire department buildings could be delayed or scaled back to fit other projects back into the budget, but that would just make sense!

  3. your daddy

    Council members shouldn’t rely on “impressions,” they should get the facts, especially if a problem has existed for 10 years.

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