NORWALK, Conn. – The director of Norwalk’s Department of Public Works has crafted his capital budget request this year on a simple principal: There is no point in asking for money to fund projects for which you do not have the manpower to complete.
“We have a backlog of projects that we have already funded in our previous capital budget,” Hal Alvord said Monday. “So if I ask for new projects without the sufficient staff then we’re just going to backlog some more projects.”
Alvord’s capital budget request for 2014-2015 is for $12.6 million. As part of last year’s 5-year capital budget planning, Alvord had projected asking for $18 million. Finance Director Thomas Hamilton, working with then-Mayor Richard Moccia, had recommended that the department get $10.1 million as part of that 5-year projection.
“We didn’t have new big projects that we needed to request,” Alvord said. “If we did, we’d have to be careful about how we do it, just because we didn’t have the staff to manage the work.”
“We lost an assistant civil engineer post in 2009. That put a crimp in what we could get done engineering and construction-wise,” he said.
This year’s request for capital paving dollars for 2014-2015 is $6 million, the same amount that Alvord had projected asking for when he made the plan last year.
“We made a lot of progress,” Alvord said. “We don’t need new bridge projects because the last of our bridges are in design; in fact, one is going to construction. If we continue our investment in roads, we’re making good progress there.”
Alvord had projected asking for $200,000 for storm water management, for which Hamilton had recommended $100,000. Instead, there is nothing requested.
The current budget request asks for nothing in footpath repairs, although Hamilton had recommended approving $50,000 for footpaths when he studied it last year.
There is nothing in the budget request for Safe Routes to Schools, although a $200,000 request had been expected in the budget projection made last year.
Alvord is seeking $276,000 for transfer station compactor replacements and $150,000 for a document management system. Neither were on the budget projection last year.
Common Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At large) said at this months’s Public Works Committee meeting that the committee needs to go to bat for Alvord during the Board of Estimate and Taxation reviews of the DPW requests.
“You’re very, very frustrated,” he said to Alvord. “We may have to bite the bullet and push a little harder, and maybe we get different kind of results.”
“I want to start to start addressing this backlog of projects,” Alvord said, “some of which are public safety issue — retaining walls, that sort of thing, that we need.”
Kimmel asked Alvord about the $200,000 request for a Washington Street paving program, from Water Street to Martin Luther King Drive.
“It’s in pretty bad shape,” Alvord said. “There’s a variety of cobblestone brick crosswalks all over the place. The asphalt is in terrible condition. We set that as a separate project because I didn’t want it to suck up an awful lot of the paving dollars and impact our ability to continue to improve the average paving index. There’s going to be some unique aspect to that on how we do the crosswalks and all that kind of thing. That’s why I did it as a separate project.”
Councilman David Watts (D-District A) pushed for Alvord to put a new line item into his budget request – $20,000 to $30,000 for solar lights on Kendall Court, which is “completely dark,” but yet has no telephone poles to put street lights on.
“A group of residents got together after a lot of shady things happened in there,” Watts said. “They’ve been passed around from department to department to department. We should try to do our best to illuminate an area that has no lights.”
He had been discussing the matter with Alvord before the meeting.
Alvord’s operating budget request includes the addition of two positions: a civil engineer and a tool mechanic.
In addition to helping with the backlog, the civil engineer would do plan reviews for zoning and the building department – permit applications are up dramatically.
A DPW driver has been serving as a tool mechanic for several years, Alvord said. The position is “absolutely essential,” Alvord said. “Hand tools used to disappear every day,” he said, but now everyone signs out tools in the morning and are charged for them if they don’t bring them back.
The tools are also maintained, so if someone takes out a chainsaw to cut down trees after a hurricane, the chainsaw is sharp, he said.
The driver would be qualified for the job as it is written in the job description, he said.