Norwalk capital budget may fund SoNo facelift but not an Alvord pet project

Norwalk foliage 110713 026
The copper in the Norwalk City Hall dome is recommended for replacement in the proposed 2014-2015 capital budget. The City Hall roof will also be worked on. Both have exceeded their life expectancy, the Department of Public Works says.

NORWALK, Conn. – Hal Alvord’s requests for infrastructure mapping – which he claims is an indispensable tool for rebuilding Norwalk sidewalks – and document management are likely to be turned down in this year’s capital budget process.

Nothing new about that, he says.

Alvord’s Department of Public Works gets nearly $8.8 million in capital budget funds in Finance Director Thomas Hamilton’s recommended 2014-2015 capital budget. That includes $5 million for paving ($6 million had been planned), $830,000 for new vehicles and $730,000 for City Hall repairs and improvements. Not included are some tried and true losers like the infrastructure mapping, a request that has been denied for years.

The city’s capital budget is the subject of a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Planning and Zoning conference room, a room that does not accommodate many people.

Hamilton’s budget says yes to replacing the intercom system at police headquarters, described as being “obsolete,” for $20,000. It says yes to installing a waterproof membrane around the base of the Lockwood House, where Norwalk Museum artifacts will be stored, for $30,000; and yes to spending $100,000 to fund the replacement of the cooling tower at the library, described as being original to the 1977 portion of the building and well beyond its estimated 25-year life cycle.

The lowest bid was $100,000 more than the library’s estimate, so the project has been delayed.

Washington Street between Water Street and South Main Street is likely to get a $200,000 facelift next summer, thanks to Hamilton’s budget. The project, expected to begin in August, features redoing the crosswalks by replacing the brick pavers that were installed in the 1980’s, and installing granite curbs to lock the pavers in place. The road will be milled and overlaid with bituminous concrete and the crosswalks will get American Disability Act (ADA) ramps.

Other planned expenditures include $500,000 in sidewalks to be done in conjunction with road paving and $250,000 for storm water management.

Not planned: traffic signal replacement outside the city’s “main grid” and Alvord’s document management system, which he said would bring the department “into the 21st century.”

“We have to go to the flat files, go down manually to the basement,” Alvord said, of the current system.

Not planned: infrastructure mapping, which DPW has been requesting for seven or eight years, Alvord said.

“We never get it,” he said.

The department’s request says the system would pay itself back within four years with increased efficiencies.

“It would be a contract with a company,” Alvord said. “They have a vehicle. They use lasers and GPS and they go down the street and they record everything there and give you the GPS location of your traffic signals, your fire hydrants, your catch basins and your manholes and that kind of stuff. You get a video of how good the sidewalk is.”

Mayor Harry Rilling promised during his campaign to look into repairing Norwalk’s sidewalks. Since the election, Councilman David Watts (D-District A) has taken the cause up at Public Works Committee meetings, a discussion that is supported by Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large),

Alvord routinely says he’d need a study done first.

Some people suggest volunteers could do that – it’s easy to find the broken sidewalks, they say.

“When we tried to do an inventory of fire hydrants we were going to use volunteers,” Alvord said. “You can’t do it because people don’t understand what you need to do. If they get a crack or they get a panel that’s higher than the other one, that’s not the right kind of stuff. You need somebody who’s going to constantly look at the whole thing.”

“I don’t mean to put down volunteers,” he continued. “You get a lot of good things done with volunteers, but you can’t do engineering or facility assessment with volunteers. You’ve got to have a consistent set of eyes looking at stuff so that the same criteria s being applied across the board.”

Infrastructure mapping is akin to other surveying work that is done, he said. The city’s crawl cameras have been instrumental in identifying which sanitary pipes need to be replaced, he said.

There is a map of city footpaths, but it’s 12 years old, he said.

“Anything that was in good or fair condition 12 years ago is probably not in such good condition now,” he said.

But even if he got the mapping done he’d need more money to put the information to use, he said.

“The problem is I don’t have the staff,” he said. “I need a consultant to come in and be able to do that kind of stuff. We don’t have the staff to do it. If the mayor says don’t pave any more roads, shift the resources that we have to sidewalks, sure we could do that. Now do we want to do that – we’re not even halfway through trying to repair the damage to the roads that’s happened in the last 25 years. We’re starting to make progress. The PCI (Pavement Condition Index) from (2012-2013) increased from 72 to 75, so we’ve caught up with the years of the neglect and now we’re starting to make good progress.”


10 responses to “Norwalk capital budget may fund SoNo facelift but not an Alvord pet project”

  1. LWitherspoon

    @Nancy Chapman
    I’m glad you referred to candidate Rilling’s campaign statements about sidewalks and paving. But if memory serves, he did a lot more than merely promise to “look into repairing Norwalk’s sidewalks.”
    “On privately owned sidewalks, for the most part, it’s the citizens responsibility, but if nobody is out there inspecting them and saying ‘look, we need to get this done and we can work with you and help you’ – that’s what I am going to do,” he said. “I will also make sure that there’s a responsible amount of money put aside for these kinds of things, the potholes in the road.”
    Source: https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/10/rilling-norwalkers-want-better-sidewalks-fewer-potholes/
    According to the same article, Candidate Rilling “stood on a badly deteriorated South Norwalk sidewalk Wednesday, next to photos of potholes from every part of town, to condemn the Moccia administration’s efforts on the “quality of life issues.”
    Now Rilling is Mayor, and with this capital budget he has a chance to do things differently. Yet we have heard nothing about his plans to improve the quality of sidewalks. Also, it appears that the amount of money budgeted for improving roads is exactly the same as it was last year under Mayor Moccia. Norwalk voted to change Mayors, and the new guy promised significant changes. Where are they?
    I’m not surprised that a politician would make grand promises to get elected and then do things more or less the same as his predecessor. What does surprise me is that NoN would fail to call that politician out on it.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ L Witherspoon

      It can take more than a few days to develop a story. When I edited Nancy’s story, the same question went through my mind, and I made a note to check in with the mayor. We will be following up.

  2. Bill

    If Rilling is not willing to do what he promised, “fix the sidewalks”, then why did we elect him? If the road budget is the same as last year and no sidewalks are improved, then how different is he than Moccia?

  3. Victor Cavallo

    This article is substantially incorrect. No capital budget has been approved; no expenditures have been “planned” or “not planned.” The budget has not yet even been formulated. The Capital Budget is adopted by April 15, when the Common Council votes on it and it can add approve, reject or reduce any item.

    The process starts with department heads submitting capital requests to the “Controller” i.e. the Finance Director by January 1. By February 1, the Finance Director submits his recommendations to the Planning Commission. Then the Planning Commission holds a “hearing” with the department heads, and the Finance Director (and anyone else who wants to participate, including the Mayor and BET and Council members but not the public) by February 15. Then the Planning Commission may hold a public hearing (originally scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, February 5 but now cancelled due to weather). The Planning Commission then fashions the capital budget, taking into account department requests, the Finance Director’s recommendations and public comments. The budget then goes to the Mayor for his review and recommendations. He then transmits it to the Board of Estimate, which thereafter submits it to the Council.

    The DPW requests recited in the article have not been acted on by the Planning Commission or anyone else. No expenditures have been “planned” or “not planned.” So Mr. Alvord has not been denied anything. The Finance Director’s input, at this point, is a recommendation only, which will be considered by the Planning Commission, the Mayor, the BET and the Council; and it is not the fait accompli that this article implies.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Victor Cavallo

      Your comment is mostly based on an incorrect reading. Nowhere does the story say the budget is set or anything is a done deal. Your description of the process is accurate. Your characterization of the article is not.

      You may have missed these:

      “…are likely to be turned down in this year’s capital budget process.”

      “…in Finance Director Thomas Hamilton’s recommended 2014-2015 capital budget.

      “Washington Street between Water Street and South Main Street is likely to get a $200,000 facelift next summer…”

      “Other planned expenditures include…”

      We did tweak the headline to say “may”instead of “will” to further lessen any confusion.

  4. Victor Cavallo

    Mark: I apologize: I was commenting on an earlier version of the story. You have editorial and ownership perogative to change or tweak headlines and content subsequent to initial publication, as you wish.

    I hope your fundraiser is a tremendous success.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Victor Cavallo

      No apology needed. We did not tweak the story, just the headline, which could have been misleading. The text, I think, makes it clear it is not a done deal. I just went back and looked at the original capital budget story and the head was fine, but the text language went back and forth between saying “recommended” and saying it “will” pay for things instead of “would.” I will be fixing that one…

      Thanks for reading, commenting and the well-wishes.

  5. RU4REAL

    Come on folks he’s been in office three months, give the guy a chance!
    If it doesn’t get better in, say a year, then you may be correct.
    Until then all Harry made promises talk is premature and purely speculation.
    Norwalk, like Rome wasn’t built in a day.

  6. LWitherspoon

    @Mark Chapman
    Thank you.
    Nobody is saying that roads and sidewalks must be fixed overnight. The budget request mentioned in the article was prepared by City Finance Director Thomas Hamilton, who I believe serves at the pleasure of the Mayor. As such, this budget request is the Mayor’s first real opportunity to start effecting the changes promised in his campaign. It’s entirely reasonable to scrutinize the budget request and ask how it compares to the prior Mayor’s, and whether or not Mayor Rilling is delivering the changes that he promised during the campaign.

  7. RU4REAL

    How can he deliver changes in three months? It’s unreasonable to suggest ANYONE can.
    Your missing the point, three months IS NOT long enough to make a determination.

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