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Norwalk council sets $317.9M budget cap

Common Council Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) makes a motion to adopt Finance Director Thomas Hamilton’s recommended 2014-15 operating budget Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Common Council on Tuesday night shaved $500,000 off Finance Director Thomas Hamilton’s recommended 2014-2015 operating budget cap, while indicating sympathy for hard-hit taxpayers in the Sixth Taxing District.

The cap for total expenditures is $317,980,145. With an estimated $16,163,897 in intergovernmental grants, the total to be spent from Norwalk property tax dollars is $301,816,248. The council can revise this in April, but overriding this decision would require a 2/3 majority.

The increase from last year was painted in different ways, as Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) and Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) reminded everyone that the revaluation means that people in the Fifth and Sixth Taxing Districts will be getting a double whammy.

“It’s always tough to craft an operating budget, but when we’re going it in a reval year it’s even harder because we’re not sure where the chips are going to fall when it comes to property taxes,” Kimmel said. “Sometimes some districts do OK, sometimes other districts do OK, or vice versa, so it’s very very difficult and almost impossible to make everyone happy during a reval year.”

Kimmel produced this list to show the impact of the revaluation:

• First Taxing District property owners will experience a minus 4 percent in their median tax bills

• Second Taxing District (South Norwalk) property owners will experience a minus 13.3 percent in their median tax bills

• Third Taxing District property owners will experience a minus 8.5 percent in their median tax bills

• Fourth Taxing District (the largest district, of homes that are sewered) will experience an increase of 1.2 percent in their median tax bills property

• Fifth Taxing District (non-sewered, primarily north of the Merritt) property owners will experience an increase of 6 percent in their median tax bills

• Sixth Taxing District (Rowayton) property owners will experience an increase of 8.2 percent in their median tax bills

He called Hamilton’s recommended budget a “Very solid document” which calls for a 2.9 spending increase, “the lowest in three years.”

While Kimmel said that this increase is the lowest in three years, McCarthy produced math that he said showed this increase to be much higher.

“In the Fifth and Sixth Taxing Districts we are looking at significant tax increases before the impact of the budget is even felt,” McCarthy said. “We’re talking about in the Fifth Taxing District, a 6 percent raise, and in the Sixth Taxing District, Rowayton, an 8.2 tax increase. I have seen properties that are increasing by as much as 25 percent on their tax bills before the new budget is factored in.”

McCarthy attempted to cast Kimmel’s claim of the lowest increase in three years as false.

“Last year … we had an emergency. We were dealing with the second part of the discovery of the insurance fiasco from the year before in the Board of Education’s budget,” McCarthy said.

The city gave the BOE $1.7 million more than it would have given to complete the process of filling that hole, he said.

According to news reports, the city took $1.2 million in excess insurance funds from the BOE to pay down that debt.

“That really means spending is up 3.5 percent,” he said. “Which leads to a tax increase, again, considering that additional distance, of about 4.1 percent or something that equates to about a 10 percent in the increase over last year even after using a million in fund balance. … Raising people’s taxes 4 percent, especially in districts where as I previously pointed out, before that impact is felt, there is a 6 or 8 percent increase that will be compounded to a potentially even more significant increase is just not sustainable in the long run.”

McCarthy initially proposed setting a cap that would be $1.5 million less than Hamilton’s recommendation. Only he and fellow Rowaytonite John Igneri (D-District E) voted for that. The vote for the lesser amount was unanimous. Every council member was present.

Council members promised that the BOE would be fully funded.

Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said new Superintendent Manny Rivera is “probably the best we could find,” who has requested “nothing frivolous.”

“I think the worst thing we could do at this point is to cut the legs out from under him,” he said. “… For if our schools are not up to par, they are not succeeding, I believe the detriment to the city is going to be far worse than higher taxes.”

It’s also important to deal with the city’s infrastructure, especially flooding issues, he said. There are contractual obligations, he said.

“I don’t think we should be opening up contracts that we agreed to,” he said. “But going forward I think the city really should take a hard look at what the private sector has been.”

Taxpayers are at the end of their limit, he said.

“If we can’t find a half a million dollars worth of excess in a $318 million budget – and I say this with a bitter pill because it is my district that is probably going to be raised up, I represent a lot of the Fourth and Fifth. But that being said, for the good of our city, for the good of our school systems, for the good of our property values, I will support this.”

Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said that with the work of new BOE staff, the BOE budget no longer has “hidden pockets.”

“I may have been with Dave in the old days but I think that right now anything more than (cutting $500,000) sends the wrong message to Dr. Rivera. … I think this is a well thought-out budget.”

Mayor Harry Rilling called the budget responsible.

“Nobody likes to raise taxes and it is really a horrible thing that anybody has to do,” he said. “But we do have to do the responsible thing. I just want to point out that every council person, city clerk and the mayor, we all live in town. We’re taxpayers. So it makes it difficult and we understand that we have to be responsible. We have to put together a responsible budget. I think that together we have done that.”

Comments

17 responses to “Norwalk council sets $317.9M budget cap”

  1. anonymous

    @McCarthy, Isn’t the City taking or borrowing $1M from the city’s savings account, the Rainy Day Fund? If that wasn’t borrowed, what would the tax increase be?

  2. John Hamlin

    “responsible”‘would be a salary and budget freeze and no increase in taxes.

  3. Mike Mushak

    I hope Dave McCarthy will tell his good friends Mike Greene (P and Z Director), Emily Wilson (Zoning co-chair), and Joe Santo(Zoning Chair), that the immediate passage of the TOD zoning overlay for South Norwalk (stalled for 3 years for no reason under their leadership), will bring in an estimated $24 million in revenues to the city(net, after expenditures for increased city services are deducted)from new development, including increased affordable and market-rate housing and new businesses.

    This will increase the city’s tax base and grand list, and help offset Norwalk’s “unsustainable employee contract obligations” (Hamilton’s phrase from 2 years ago), and help offset annual tax increases.

    We need smart leadership on the Zoning Commission and in our P and Z Department, not more excuses.
    .

  4. Bruce Kimmel

    First rate story. Illustrates the difficulties we faced because of the revaluation, as well as interesting questions that relate to one-shot, non-recurring budget expenses; Dave McCarthy and I have different perspectives on how to deal with non-recurring expenses. Makes for interesting debates.

  5. Al Bore

    Why is it when you talk to anyone who is selling their house and moving out of Norwalk their reason for leaving is always the same. The Norwalk school system is terrible these people are moving to Fairfield, Trumbull, ect. What are we spending so much money for on a bad school system other than for salaries and benefits for the teachers and administrators? Norwalk needs a great school system for its students not for the high paid BOE employees who live in other towns because even they know the Norwalk school system is bad. This must change or Norwalk will be a rental community very soon. By the way did the new superintendant buy a house in Norwalk like he said he would or is he just passing through

  6. anonymous

    @ Mushak, we don’t need more housing. We don’t need more offices. We need more businesses. Why didn’t you mention 95/7 and the new Mall?

  7. bill

    Does anyone realize the more we create “affordable housing”, the more our schools suffer. We need kids whose parents can afford market rate housing to be moving into our city and putting their kids in public school. We already have plenty of kids whose parents can’t afford to live in the northeast (impoverished on assistance from the government) or who live 3+ to a room (immigrants) in our schools; nothing wrong with that, but do we really want to be increasing the percentage of those demographics in our schools to levels that lead to almost no upper middle class kids in public school? This is the true reason so many middle class and upper middle class parents are moving their kids out of Norwalk. It has nothing to do with the teachers, it has everything to do with the students sadly.

  8. Piberman

    Hardly news that our “amen chorus” Common Common passes the Finance Heads recommended budget with only brief superficial discussion. None of the other surrounding towns exhibit such utter lack of financial sophistication by their elected officials. Are any concerned that per capita spending has risen 55% over the past 2 decades while incomes have remained almost unchanged up only 10 %. Our fiscally indifferent Council members remain an ongoing embarrassment. Couldn’t they possibly come up with a few ideas for reducing City spending ? Just to demonstrate they actually read through the. city budget. Do these “public servants” see any connection between stagnant property values and punitive taxation/excessive spending ? Of course not !

  9. Joe Espo

    Mushak never misses an opportunity to defame and blame Greene, Wilson, Santo and McCarthy for his failure to convince his own zoning commission that his proposals have any merit. Remember, this is the same person who, admittedly, struck a backroom political deal with the former mayor to get reappointed to the zoning commission. Read his admission here:

    https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/02/rillling-mosque-settlement-discussions-being-done-under-judges-order/#more-17098

  10. Mike Mushak

    Joe Espo, the TOD zoning overlay for SoNo is not “my proposal”. That’s absurd. It is the result of a taxpayer-funded $200,000 taxpayer study conducted by nationally recognized professional planners in 2011. It’s been sitting on a shelf at P and Z for 3 years as the Redevelopment Agency and developers wonder what happened. It totally IS the fault of Santo, Wilson, and Greene that it is not implemented yet. They are the leadership who determines what goes on the agenda.

    I did not “strike a backroom deal” with Moccia. He made something a condition of my being nominated, that clearly was NOT my idea, and it was a silly item about promising not to throw a fundraiser for his opponent that year. He didn’t say I couldn’t support him as he wasn’t that brazen,but just not throw a fundraiser, and I did support Garfunkel as I intended to all along. That had no bearing on city business, and I accepted Moccia’s condition grudgingly in order to be able to serve the city as a volunteer for 3 more years taking a lot of my time. I never hid it and was transparent about it all along on NON and elsewhere. You are making this out to be some big new revelation for no reason except to harrass. It’s old news.
    .
    Moccia did horse trades with everyone all the time from both parties-that was his style whether you agree with it or not. I just got caught up in it too. He didn’t need to nominate me again but knew I was invaluable to the commission which is why he did nominate me, but figured he might get something out of it too, as any smooth politician would! I never said he was a lousy politician! And please stop referring to the initiatives listed in the Master Plan and all of the expert studies I am trying to implement as “my ideas”. They are not, it’s just that I am the only one on teh commission right now wondering why they are all stalled by a do-nothing commission and staff who don’t want to work hard to make Norwalk better. We are currently giving up $26 million in additional revenue that the city can use desperately while providing more housing and businesses.
    .

    You disagree obviously and think we should continue to stagnate and pay sky-high taxes. So we disagree, but you have not shared any of your ideas on how to increase our tax base and build more housing and create new jobs in a depressed area near a major train station. What is your plan Joe Espo? (Expect silence,lol!)

  11. Mike Mushak

    Bill, every new apartment in Norwalk in new developments adds just .012 students to the schools, based on studies of existing large apartment buildings. Many of the new buildings are for childless millennials (18-34)and empty nesters who are downsizing from suburban McMansions they don’t want or need anymore. Thats not my opinion, but is based on plenty of data from studies. Most families with children do not want to be in a high rise apartment building when they have so many other choices in Norwalk. Bottom line is there is very little added expense to the school budget. Other costs such as police and fire are already figured into the net revenue of $24 million for the TOD zoning overlay.

  12. Bill

    @Mike, I have no problems with apartment developments, I encourage development. I’m iust against more “workforce housing” because we subsidize housing for laborers, nannies, and gardeners for wilton, westport, Darien, etc. let those cities subsidize their own workerers’ housing needs; not us middle class notwalk taxpayers. Market rate housing only!!!

  13. MUSAK gives me a headache

    MUSAK GIVES ME A HEADACHE

  14. Suzanne

    Mr. Espo, your repeating of an untruth does not make it so. Bill, a diverse population at every income/tax bracket would seem to be the ideal. Darien and New Canaan, just like other communities in CT, are required to have “work force housing” not just Norwalk. I do not know at what percentage this is required but I do know that one of New Canaan’s workforce housing projects is just off 106 and Darien has workforce housing on the Post Road as well as North of there. Historically, Norwalk was the town that provided workers for adjacent, more prosperous communities. I am not sure that is actually true or if your comment reflects a perceived bias.

  15. bill

    @Suzanne,

    I don’t care if Norwalk was the town that provided workers for more prosperous nearby communities. If those communities want to employee our citizens, pay them a decent wage so they can get MARKET rate housing, not “workforce” or subsidized housing paid for by the over taxed middle class in Norwalk…makes sense right?

  16. Mike Mushak

    Bill, you are repeating a common misconception. Workforce housing is not paid for by Norwalk taxpayers. It is not subsidized in any way. It is paid for by developers who want to build projects and make money, and they end up making a little less as a result because of a policy decision by the city (as most other cities around the country have done, especially in expensive housing markets like we are in) to encourage affordable housing for the population who can’t afford the expensive market rate housing based on income. We will always have lower paying jobs as any society does, and all these folks can’t live in cheaper areas and commute or we’d have worse gridlock than we already have now. Also, corporations look to locate in communities where ALL of their employees can live nearby so they can retain good staff with little turnover. So it makes good economic sense to have affordable housing to attract new businesses. This is not my opinion but the result of decades of research and evidence, which is why we have the policy. If the affordable housing was such a burden to developers, they wouldn’t build here. But we continue to build many new projects with 10% affordable units that do not cost taxpayers anything.

  17. Piberman

    There is a real reason why population growth in Norwalk is well below almost all other County towns over the past decade and mostly confined to transient rentals. As long as Norwalk residents remain unconcerned about punitive property taxes and highest City salaries of any City in CT relative to our modest incomes Norwalk homeowners will continue to suffer stagnant property values. No wonder our neighbors refer to us as the “hole in the donut”. A Common Council unable to prevent the continued growth in Mayor’s proposed budget hardly commands respect or admiration. The New Norwalk is “Spending our way to Bridgeport”. We deserve better.

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