Norwalk hopes for better reval in 2023

Meek calls Grand List decreases ‘colossal screw up’ for Finance Department

Construction continues Dec. 12 on the Pinnacle at Waypointe mixed-used development site off West Avenue. New projects will bring the City’s Grand List back up after property assessment appeals have dented the total, an $8.1 million decrease at the end of November.

NORWALK, Conn. — A $8.1 million drop in Norwalk’s 2021 Grand List, the result of citizen challenges to 2018’s revaluations, has helped inspire a new approach: As of next year, the city’s commercial and residential properties will no longer be evaluated by the same company.

While the drop will affect the tax base “a little bit,” the Grand List “is not going to stay down there forever,” Mayor Harry Rilling said, citing projects that are being built.

Nonetheless, he said, the city is hoping for “a more accurate assessment.” 

New construction brought a $361.1 million increase to the Grand List calculation in March.

Bryan Meek (R-District D), the lone Republican on the Common Council and a frequent critic of the Rilling administration, characterized the situation as “a colossal screw-up” for the Finance Department. He cited Tax Assessor William Ford’s remote work situation – Ford is said to telecommute from Vermont –  and noted that the Finance Department received a $1.4 million budget increase this year, the largest among city departments.

“Maybe the Assessor should get his but (sic) back in the office and maybe our CFO (Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz) shouldn’t be telecommuting 3 days a week,” Meek wrote in an email to NancyOnNorwalk. “Ms. Biagiarelli is the only one working full speed in this department.”

An efficiency study released in March characterized the staff-shorted Tax Assessor’s Office as “lacking in sufficient supervision and expertise.” Ford works remotely, it said.

Ford told NoN in March that he’d been “unable to immediately make the transition of home ownership to Connecticut” after signing on as Norwalk’s Tax Assessor on the eve of the pandemic. Much of his work involves court appearances and those have been done remotely.

Last week, Rilling said Ford is “back in the office a lot.”

“I can’t say he’s in the office every single day. But I can say he’s been in the office a lot more frequently. Because I for one was not pleased and I told Henry,” he said.

In April, Norwalk hired Paul Gorman as its new Assistant Tax Assessor, a role that had been vacant since February 2020.

The Common Council Finance Committee met remotely Dec. 8, three days after Tax Collector Lisa Biagiarelli highlighted the impact of property assessment appeals on the Grand List. Ford was present for the first time since September. Only three of seven Committee members attended, not including Meek. No questions were asked about the Grand List by Greg Burnett (D-At Large), Jenn McMurrer (D-District C) or Nora Niedzielski-Eichner (D-At Large). Also absent were David Heuvelman (D-District A) and Diana Révolus (D-District B).

The hit to the 2021 Grand List was $6.8 million at the end of October, Biagiarelli’s records show. Her narrative offers no explanation about real estate values decreasing $1.3 million in a month.

Biagiarelli’s figures for November show:

Fiscal Year 2022-2023 (2021 Grand List)

  • Automobile-regular
    • Change in levy: $377,448.00 decrease
  • Personal property
    • Change in levy: $4,397,316.23 decrease
  • Real estate
    • Change in levy: $3,338,689.70 decrease


The 2020 Grand List decreased $3,828,934.73 due to challenged property tax assessments, according to Biagiarell’s stats. Assessment appeals continue.

“The Tax Collector adjusts her numbers throughout the year based on court stipulations or settlements,” Dachowitz explained in an email. “If a stipulation or settlement reduces the amount of tax we are allowed to collect in the current year, the Collector reduces her targeted amounts, and then calculates what percentage of that legally allowed amount she collects in a year.”

A review of court records online offers some explanation, as more than 200 tax appeals were filed since 2018.

Ford has said he faced 435 assessment challenges when he took the job in 2020. The number was down to about 80 by September, and Ford said he expected all to be resolved before the next reval.

A musical performance Dec. 13 in The SoNo Collection, just outside Bloomingdale’s.

In November, SoNo Collection owner Norwalk Land Development LLC settled its assessment appeal with the City, online Court records show. On Oct. 1, 2021, the mall’s total market value was calculated at $430,897,829 and its assessment was $301,628,480. The settlement changed the total value to $385,000,00 and the assessment as $269,500,000. Any reduction in property taxes will be applied to the tax bill due Jan. 1.

The mall’s tax bill is complicated by its location in an Enterprise Zone, subject to tax breaks on a sliding scale over time.

Bloomingdale’s, one of the mall’s anchors, challenged its personal property assessment, reaching agreement in August to reduce it by about half, from $16,818,790 to $8,261,543.

Dachowitz addressed personal property assessments in an email to NoN:

(a)   “Personal Property valuations used for tax purposes are based on a gross acquisition value minus depreciation.  Since depreciation increases each year, valuations on existing personal property normally will decline each year.

(b)   “During COVID, numerous businesses went out of business – the valuations of their personal property are deducted and reduce our prior year totals.

(c)    “During COVID, businesses acquired less new personal property due to (i) the uncertainty of the economic environment, and (ii) problems with the supply chain and difficulty obtaining delivery of this equipment.”


“A $4 million hit on personal property at near constant mill rates is roughly $150,000,000 error in property assessment,” Meek said in his email to NoN. “What’s even more ridiculous is that it was $23 million in 21/22, then budgeted for $26 million. A 13% INCREASE….then actually dropped to $22 million, which is probably in line with normal depreciation and indicates a business environment not investing in itself….another story there.   The mayor blows his horn about all the new businesses opening in Norwalk, when in reality these are mostly gig workers who need a side hustle to make ends meet.  Again this is a bigger story.  But these 400 new businesses don’t occupy much if any commercial real estate, which is way more vacant than it was before the pandemic.”

Construction continues Dec. 12 on the Pinnacle mixed-used development site off West Avenue, in the former Loehmann’s Plaza. Plans call for 393 apartments, 40 of them “affordable,” and 25,495 square feet of commercial space within six-story structures. A pedestrian promenade will connect to Matthews Park via improvements to Butler Street. It’s the last phase of the Waypointe development, which dates to 2010.

Coming reval

In September, the Council hired Vision Government Solutions for $900,000 to revalue Norwalk residential properties. Commercial properties will be revalued by Safeground Analytics Inc., at a cost of $160,000.

“We split up the RFP (requests for proposals) into three parts: the residential inspections, the residential evaluation and the commercial portion of the properties,” Ford said to the Finance Committee. “… That’s how I have done it in the past. And I’ve gotten better results from doing it that way.”

The RFP addressed “areas of concern” stemming from the last reval, including “improved communications, both with legislators, but more importantly with the taxpayers,” Dachowitz said.

He predicted residential values will increase. “We are committed to having a communications package, whether it’s leaflets and information sessions with PowerPoint presentations, so that the residents understand the process, understand how calculations are made and understand the underlying trends,” Dachowitz said. “Apparently, that was an area of weakness five years ago that we want to overcome and avoid.”

Residential prices have increased “because of the migration of people from New York, Boston and elsewhere to Norwalk,” and the bidding wars that have resulted, he said.

“On the commercial side, we’re doing better than other cities,” Dachowitz said. “…I think we are holding our own because although there’s a loss of some demand for commercial space. That is offset by companies who say, ‘I want to get a smaller space so that my employees who live in Norwalk and can work from home will have a place away from their personal residence where they can work for us.’”

Vision Government Solutions did the 2013 reval. John Valente of Safeground Analytics Inc. said he’s been “supporting all the commercial valuations” since Tyler Technologies, Inc. performed the problematic 2018 reval, helping Corporation Counsel defend cases and do pre-trial work.

“In addition, I was instrumental in working on the evaluation of the new mall. So Safeground has been around for a while here in Norwalk,” Valente said.

Meek called the 2018 reval “botched.”

Republican Town Committee Chairman Fred Wilms said his own home had been severely overvalued and he went through the assessment appeals process to get it reduced. He “wasn’t impressed” with Tyler.

Wilms was BET Chairman when Vision was hired for 2013. “They’re good,” he said. “I’m pleased to hear that they’ve been hired to at least do the residential.”

Council member John Kydes (D-District C) cited “significantly lower” cost as the deciding factor in hiring Tyler Technologies in 2018.

Ford said the 2013 reval was “very conservative” due to the economic situations at the time. The 2018 reval was “a little more aggressive.”

Dachowitz said some assessment appeals are adjudicated in Norwalk’s favor.

Norwalk Power LLC challenged its $704,585 personal property assessment for the defunct Manresa power plant, Court records show. The case settled in January 2021 with no reduction.

“We try to learn our lessons, get the valuations as close to right as we can when we do the reval in 2023,” Dachowitz said. The RFP called for assessors to make detailed notations so the City can be prepared to defend its valuations.

“Again, there was a unique anomaly over the last 10 years, because of the recession of 2013,” Dachowitz said. “After the recession, where the values went down; 2018, maybe they were more aggressive. Maybe 2023, we’ll be back to a normal baseline. And Mr. Ford and his team of outside advisors are going to work very hard to get the values right and to communicate to everyone.”

By law, the coming reval will be a physical inspection of all the properties, as required every 10 years, Dachowitz said.

“The 2018 revaluation was not a full inspection,” Ford said. “I don’t know what was actually done. So you’re talking about using street level photography and aerial images to make determinations as to whether or not the properties met the information that the City had on its systems. That has been done. That is not what we’re doing this time around. This is a boots-on-the-ground situation, because it’s our 10-year cycle.”

‘Normal course of business’

Common Council member Bryan Meek (R-District D), July 12 in City Hall.

Meek said the revenue decreases “can’t be looked at casually.” They should be considered in the context of “$7 million in ARPA {American Rescue Plan Act} funds we won’t have” in 2023-24, “4 million in PILOT {Payments in Lieu of Taxes} relief” and federal COVID-19 grants to the schools, referred to as ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund), drying up.

“We’re $40 million in the hole and the first budget meeting hasn’t happened and the revaluations are on tap,” Meek said in an email to NancyOnNorwalk.

On Friday, in a comment to NoN, Meek increased that shortfall to $50 million.

Dachowitz responded in a comment. The $8.1 million hit to the tax levy reported in Biagiarelli’s November spreadsheet is “part of the normal course of business we anticipated as we planned our budget and worked through these cases,” he said.

The City planned in May 2021 to use ARPA funds to close the FY22 budget gap and lighten the burden for Norwalk taxpayers, Dachowitz said. “Due to good management, the City did not need to use those funds in the budget – we earned a surplus without the use of these funds. These funds have been returned to our ARPA accounts and will be redirected to other City purposes.”

The PILOT comment is also wrong, Dachowitz said.

In this year’s State budget, the PILOT formula was changed and Norwalk’s revenues increased $4 million, he said. As this occurred after Norwalk approved its budget, it’s a “positive variance” as more revenue is coming in than planned.

In a Monday email to Dachowitz, Meek said he “wasn’t aiming for an adversarial position” with the CFO. He told Dachowitz he is “dead wrong on the personal property tax.  That was a major screwup.  Come clean.”

Norwalk Public Schools leadership said last week that preliminary figures show a $32 million increase is needed in the district’s budget. The Board of Education is expected to vote on this today, Dec. 20.

Meek told Dachowitz that “after a $32 million opening round on the budget, if you think turning it on me helps your cause go for it.” He said, “My assertions are a worst case scenario and I stand corrected on Pilot (sic) funding which isn’t very transparent in our process even if it is positive.”

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Mall appeal

Bloomingdales appeal

Van Zant appeal

Van Zant property appeal

Waypointe Chapel St appeal

Norwalk country club appeal

Costco appeal

EDM Richards Ave appeal not resolved

Norden Place appeal

pepperidge appeal

King Industries appeal

Norwalk Hospital appeal


Steve Cenatiempo Jr December 20, 2022 at 7:48 am

Why is our financial advisor in Vermont does he live there and hold a position here in Norwalk and how many more are doing this???

David Muccigrosso December 20, 2022 at 7:48 am

The Grand List issue seems real, but I’m just curious, @Brian… How do you know that we’re not just having a “right-sizing” effect? You know, like how when a market bubble pops and assets get revalued to their true value instead of a speculative one.

Adam Blank December 20, 2022 at 7:55 am

As an attorney that handles hundreds of tax appeal cases – on behalf of taxpayers as well as municipalities I would like to clarify and correct some statements in this article. First, I agree with Mr. Meek that the City should budget for some reduction in the Grand List as a result of successful tax appeals. I also agree that the prior Assessor and his Deputy took an overly aggressive approach to valuation in the 2018 reval – and in some instances directly overruled efforts by Mr. Valiente (of the reval company) to lower assessments before they were finalized. This resulted in more tax appeals than is reasonable. I don’t expect this to occur under Mr. Ford.

However, there will – and should – always be tax appeals and reductions to the Grand List after a reval. This is the system working. First, properties don’t have a single, indisputable, value. There is a grey area of 5% or so of the value where reasonable appraisers can disagree on value. As a result, if Norwalk doesn’t see tax appeals after a revaluation it most certainly means the municipality has significantly undervalued the commercial parcels (meaning more taxes for us homeowners). So you want to see some volume of appeals after a reval.

Additionally, the valuation process by the reval company is only intended to be moderately reliable – it is just far too expensive to do an in-depth analysis on each property every revaluation. This is true in all towns, not just Norwalk. For perspective there are thousands of commercial properties in Norwalk and we are paying the reval company $160k to value ALL of them. That works out to like $50 a commercial property. An in-depth appraisal typically costs $2,500 to $25,000 per property. So the reval company is going to get some of them wrong and when appeals are filed the City will take a much harder look at those properties and often make necessary adjustments. This is not a sign of incompetence it is the system working as designed.

Johnny cardamone December 20, 2022 at 8:27 am

I’m no bean counter,🥵 seems to be a lot of subjective and random considerations hopefully nothing of a corrupt nature😩 regardless, when the new Lohmans plaza is finished, there will be 300 more apartments we can’t afford👎🏽 And what about that little white old wooden church building which I believe is the first black church in Norwalk?✝️ Is that going to be preserved?🙏🏼 I’d like to see it become a museum on black slavery in New England because of its strategic location to Matthews mansion and the other museums🇺🇸🧔🏽‍♂️🌎

John O'Neill December 20, 2022 at 9:16 am

Quite honestly I’m surprised any Democrats would show up for something as mundane as a Finance Committee meeting to figure out where the money is. We should’ve added an equity component to the meeting in order to get full attendance. Based on the description of the meeting I get a visual of Ford speaking while committee members are napping. Don’t you?
Reading the above gives one the impression of a three-card monte card game with Fed’s “Fun” Money. Sadly, the game is coming to an end.
IF you the city thought 2018 was a rocky revaluation, you haven’t seen anything.
It still shocks me that Mayor Rilling (who I personally like in spite of him lying to West Norwalkers about zoning in 2014) is running again. The upcoming 24 months will not be fun for him. I wish him well.

Lisa Brinton December 20, 2022 at 9:48 am

For me, the financial mismanagement of Norwalk, has been a slow motion car wreck – starting with the mayor’s lack of leadership & squandering of city’s assets since 2013.

Norwalk needs its own January 6 proceedings, but that would assume a 2-party system.

As the former police chief, does Rilling really have that much dirt on city elders, as to silence all but the few of us?

Over 10 years, he’s successfully dumbed down the majority of those in office, appointed to commissions, or employed in key city posts, so that nobody challenges him, effectively putting this city on auto pilot – save a few dedicated and burnt out souls. (You know who you are and so do I.)

Instead of effectively managing the city & schools, anyone tuning into council or BOE zoom meetings has regularly witnessed unprecedented self congratulatory love fests for the last few years.

How did a ‘purple’ Norwalk devolve into a city without ANY check & balance? The perfect storm – Harry Rilling & an orange man in Washington DC – effectively tarring anyone in Norwalk who didn’t have a D after their name or swear an oath of allegiance to the mayor. Sound familiar?

The net result, save Bryan Meek, is that NOBODY is minding the store – unless of course, it involves plastic bags, straws, leaf blowers, parking tickets, whoever’s operating the Oak Hills restaurant or Jason Milligan.

Truth be told, I downsized my home two years ago because I saw the property tax Tsunami coming from years of 1) P&Z & property tax mismanagement, 2) disproportionate import of student poverty into NPS, and 3) lack of state ECS funding for our schools from which we will not recover – effectively putting our schools on par with iBridgeport, but without the $185M in state ECS funding.

The mayor & BOE used Covid money to kick the can down the road, but these financials have been brewing for years. I may not have downsized enough.

Looking forward to 2023 – will it be Harry 6.0 and a completely D Council & BOE (save Bryan) or will voters realize we need a modicum of ‘political diversity’ to have ANY awareness or accountability of our city’s finances? Guess we’ll find out.

Bryan Meek December 20, 2022 at 10:01 am

To be be extremely clear here. The issue isn’t the revaluations themselves.

The issue is that we budgeted a 13% increase on a line that should have been flat at best for the very reasons cited above. How this did not jump out on a simple year over year % increase is beyond disturbing and can not happen again.

Before we start casually throwing $4 million around, let’s recall in 2011 when we had fire 40 people from NPS over a $4 million hole in the budget.

Patrick Cooper December 20, 2022 at 12:19 pm

Norwalk needs an intervention. A municipal “12-step” program, and of course step #1 is admitting you have a problem in the first place – and you need outside help to fix it. This is exactly why Mayor Harry is a really, really big problem for the city, because honesty is not high up on his list of virtues. Autocratic “chain of command” guys typically can’t admit or acknowledge there is a problem, especially when their fingerprints are all over the mess.

The power assigned to the common council has evaporated as the local DTC has weeded out any independent thinkers and only put forth loyalists & sycophants that support Harry, regardless. Strategic silence & capitulation to Hartford-Harry’s agenda are the primary qualities for election and showing up for photo-ops. We’ve dumbed down the city 1-party leadership to the point of no return. Worse – all the commissions, agencies, committees, and oversight are similarly staffed with hand picked Harry-men. Oh – and women too. Nice to see the fairer sex are equally capable of selling out the city.

Sadly, the only remedy available to Norwalk residents are elections. BUT – the DTC will not promote qualified candidates as we have witnessed, and the local RTC remains paralyzed care of an identity crisis and lack of local standing. So, the long-shot solution is awakening some civic pride and common sense in moderates, independents, and unaffiliated across the city. This summit is more difficult to reach than The Eiger in Switzerland.

Norwalk has been in a constant state of construction for the past 10 years, largely building retail & apartment housing. Density. BUT – no major employer has moved into Norwalk – no quality job growth here except at city hall. The thirst for grand-list growth remains unabated, but without careful planning and disciplined systems, our trajectory is unsustainable. Yes, Norwalk is looking at a fiscal cliff. The only question is – what are we going to do about it? Yes – I’m asking the question to the collective community of Ostrich that define our electorate. Yes – What now?

Tysen Canevari December 20, 2022 at 9:52 pm

How do i sign up to live in Vermont and get paid by Norwalk city hall? What bothers me is that the mayor and common council allow it. I love how Harry states that he has been in city hall more lately. Lol. Covid is no longer an excuse. Madison square garden packs 19000 people into a knicks game but our finance director has to do zoom from Vermont. LOL

Jeffrey A Hall December 20, 2022 at 11:08 pm

Before we start casually throwing $4 million around, let’s recall in 2011

Bryan, wait: you’re expecting us to remember something that happened eleven years ago? What town do you think you’re living in?

Mike O'Reilly December 21, 2022 at 5:21 pm

All these insightful comments remind us how we are so lucky to have NoN. We are so fortunate to be able to share our views with neighbors and our community and keep a civil discussion going. I hope all the commenters are generous supporters of Nancy. Otherwise we are in the dark.

David Muccigrosso December 21, 2022 at 10:14 pm

It’s funny to me how all the homeowners are yelling at each other about the reval, while folks like me are completely locked out of ever buying. I have colleagues who make nearly twice as much who can’t find houses around here without getting bid well out of a reasonable price range.

But no, the reval is the thing that REALLY matters around here.

Sounds like one of those TikTok challenges: Tell me “I’ve got mine, sucker!” without actually saying it.

Y’all are just whistling past the graveyard. Worse, some have even had the nerve to accuse me, as a renter, of not caring for this blessed town.

Shame on them. And shame on all of us. This pettiness is so absurd in the face of the enormous housing crisis we all face.

Bryan Meek December 22, 2022 at 8:11 am

Since the grand list pays 90% of the freight, some argue it is the single most important factor to building a city where people can work and live. I’m not sure when affordable housing where you want it became a right but all it is doing is making housing more expensive. Just like “free college” has make education unaffordable. In either case, taxmageddon is coming either in the form of higher mill rates or dollar devaluation.

John O'Neill December 22, 2022 at 8:30 am

David: I understand your frustration but let’s look at this practically. Why should Norwalk carry the water of housing density? Why not Darien, Wilton, Westport, Weston, New Canaan? Why should Norwalk carry the burden of immigration policies which are reaching a tipping point? Why not these surrounding towns? You’re a smart guy — Every Dollar paid in Property Taxes is Thousands of Affordability Dollars down the drain for a potential home buyer like yourself or colleagues. I would also recommend to your colleagues who make twice what you make to take a look at Norwalk and shy away from wealthier towns that they prefer to live in. Could it be there schools systems? It surely can’t be their diverse populations.
Renters should be as unhappy about the mismanagement of their dollars as much as homeowners. That lease is coming up for renewal and much like property taxes never seems to drop..So, I agree with you about the need for additional building. BUT, why Norwalk? Why not the surrounding towns.

David Muccigrosso December 22, 2022 at 10:35 pm

@Brian – I never said “affordable housing”. I’ve only ever said that we should BUILD BUILD BUILD. Check your priors before you put words in my mouth.

@John – You aren’t making the slightest bit of sense. Again, I never said a single word about “affordability” or “affordable housing”. Maybe once you’re done beating up on your little strawman of me, we can have a productive conversation about what we should ACTUALLY do to address the housing crisis.

And one more thing: Density isn’t a burden, it’s an opportunity. The highest revenue-per-square-foot in all of Norwalk is right here downtown at Washington and Main. My rent pays for my landlord’s property taxes, which means I’m probably contributing more to the town’s kitty per square foot than YOU. We should be taking advantage of neighboring towns’ recalcitrance and laziness, and building the sort of sustainable density that will make our town far more prosperous than them.

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