Norwalk capital budget approved with no comment from dissenters

NORWALK, Conn. — Here’s a new one: Councilman David Watts (D-District A) voted against a major expenditure without saying a word other than “roll call vote.”

Watts voted against the $23.8 million capital budget at Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting. Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B), Councilwoman Sharon Stewart (D-At Large) and Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) abstained, none of them saying a word as others promoted the budget’s positive features – the work to finally be done on the Veterans Park boat ramp, the money directed toward sidewalks and money invested in Norwalk parks.

The Planning Committee last week rearranged the capital budget, taking $100,000 out of the expected $1 million for sidewalks, $52,000 out of IT projects and $300,000 out of the Norwalk River Valley Trail project, to send more money to Vets Park, fix up the City Hall community room and finish the work on Fodor Farm.

“I think the changes, though minor, address some issues that we think we certainly need to do; we have ball fields, I think the Roodner Court field, that we put some extra money back, I think the basketball courts, fix those up down there,” Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said. “We moved some money around for that, take care of various issues. I think it’s very important to use some money to take care of a lot of different issues. We wish it was more, it’s like everything but this is a reasonable way to spend it.”

Interest rates are low and Norwalk is investing in its infrastructure, unlike the federal government, said. By the end of next year, all of Norwalk’s bridges will have had work done, and money has been put into roads, he said.

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Planks at the end of the Veterans Park boat ramp are revealed by a low tide in March 2014. (Archive photo.)

The Veterans Park boat ramp has been unusable at low and high tide for years, Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said.

“When you have a low tide and you have an ‘end of ramp’ you really need to pay attention because you’re going to lose your (boat) trailer,” he said. At high tide, the water is so high you can’t get the boat to the ramp, he said.

The plan includes raising the area in front of the ramp so the high tide won’t make it impossible to get to, he said. The docks need replacing but they can wait a few more seasons, he said.

The sidewalk situation could become “catastrophic” given that the city is liable, Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said, in touting the $900,000 earmarked for sidewalk work, the first time a capital budget has featured that component.

That will largely be spent on sidewalks adjacent to roads that are being paved, but, “We are also now going to be repairing sidewalks as we find the ones that are in disrepair irrespective of whether there is a road being fixed nearby or not,” Kimmel said.

“We have put together what we believe is a responsible budget,” Mayor Harry Rilling said.

Rilling said he would meet with Department of Public Works staff to decide which sidewalks will be fixed.

“I think we need to focus on them because we have many, many sidewalks that are difficult to navigate. … It’s time we start investing in this infrastructure,” Rilling said.

Time for a vote. At that point, 73 minutes into the meeting, Watts, known more for his loquaciousness,  issued his first words of the night. “Roll call vote,” was all he said.

The Council went on to discuss its commitment to the Norwalk River Valley Trail with a resolution affirming that up to $600,000 will be spent as a match to federal and state grants to build part of the trail from Union Park to New Canaan Avenue. Simms and Bowman walked out and missed the vote. City Clerk Donna King said she would mark them as “abstained.”

After the meeting, Watts said his silence on the vote was “a change.”

Asked to elaborate, he said, “It’s a work in progress. I think I was pretty clear during the operation budget. I still have some issues. There was nothing that I wanted to say in particular. We didn’t get everything we want in there, but it passed.”

Asked about abstaining, Stewart said, “I felt there was more things that needed to be done with this budget.”


Oldtimer April 15, 2015 at 11:32 am

There is never enough to put everything in a budget, just like our personal budgets. A city budget is always a list of projects we plan to pay for, with a lot of discussions, in committees, about priorities and compromises we can live with. Watts is not wrong, he knows more should be budgeted for core projects in the older parts of the city and knows it will not happen this year. Fixing the launching ramps at vet’s park is a good thing to do, but doesn’t do much for the people who can’t afford boats. Budgets are all about priorities and compromises.

Those ramps were servicable until the last dredging dug up a lot of the planks and changed the grades. The damage to the ramps was reported and pictures of the pile of planks removed were published when it happened. Unless the dredgers were following instructions, it would seem they should be liable for some of the expense of fixing the ramps.

QuickNote April 15, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Arrogance, pompousness, lack of fiduciary responsibility to the constituents… the walkouts, the abstentions, the no discussion. Thank you

Debora April 15, 2015 at 8:02 pm

Perhaps council would consider putting sidewalks in when they do the necessary paving work on Edlie Avenue following the drainage work there. The residents there have been suffering through years of a street that is łike the surface of the moon. What is left of their sidewalks have been used to park heavy equipment. Surely these long-suffering residents deserve new sidewalks.

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