NORWALK, Conn. — The City has set its operating budget for the coming year. Although Mayor Harry Rilling had spoken about alternative funding for Norwalk Public Schools, he didn’t mention the idea as the Board of Estimate and Taxation approved its budget Tuesday.
The BET also set a capital budget cap, in line with Rilling’s recommendation. It’s up to the Common Council to finalize the capital budget.
After all of the BET’s efforts, the resultant operating budget is 2.29% more than this year’s budget, Norwalk Director of Management and Budgets Tom Ellis said at Tuesday’s meeting. He described the increases as 4% for NPS and .4% increase on the City-side.
The City had said its budget was increasing .75% before the BET began its work. Some reductions were achieved by delaying hires until mid-way through the coming fiscal year; multiple departments were told to cut requests and come back for a special appropriation if needed.
One-time revenues are factored into the City budget. In February, Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz characterized a $12 million drop in employee expenses as the “primary driver” for only a slight increase on the City-side.
Part of that is health insurance. An error made two years ago sent co-pays to the Board of Education, not the City-side health plan, Dachowitz said. The BoE account had $5.2 million on June 30 and that money was transferred back to the City.
He said $8 million is due to OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits), “primarily health insurance coverage for our retirees.” The OPEB trust fund is 95% supported and “the last couple of years we were fortunate with good investment returns for those fundings.”
Dachowitz and Rilling planned a $6 million drawdown from the general fund balance, often referred to as the Rainy Day Fund.
Budget documents online show a $4 million drawdown is planned in the BET budget.
The total recommended budget was $424.4 million, of which $226.6 million would go to the schools’ operating budget and $197.8 million would be City-side, including the aforementioned school-related expenses such as debt service.
The BET’s budget, according to Tuesday’s packet, is $423.7 million, with $226.6 million going to the schools.
“Our budget is below the Mayor’s original recommendation by roughly $695,000 and below the Common Council cap by $1.695 million,” BET Chairman Ed Abrams said.
The Council cap, approved 8-6-1 on the fourth vote, aimed to increase funding to the school district. The Board of Education requested a 12.9% increase, saying that it needed to cover contractual obligations and see to the students’ mental health needs in the wake of COVID-19 isolation.
On March 22, Rilling said he would meet with Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella to discuss the “other possibilities” he had mentioned, alternative ideas that would address requests made by parents without obligating the City to continue funding NPS with the higher budget level that would be set if a higher increase was granted.
Rilling didn’t mention this Tuesday.
The Capital budget cap is $49,640,145, of which $48,440,692 would be bonded if the Council sticks with the numbers approved by the BET. City and school projects total $36,540,692 and $11.9 million would go to the Water Pollution Control Authority and the Parking Authority. The latter bodies are Enterprise Funds and pay the bond interest by charging their customers.