NORWALK, Conn. – About $1.3 million in state aid to Norwalk has been cut in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed state budget, Norwalk officials now say.
“My question is, ‘Tell me how?’” Mayor Richard Moccia said at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. “Tell me how I balance the needs of the taxpayers, with the minimal growth of the grand list, with the governor who is taking $1.3 million away from us, and then transferring $800,000 out of the PILOT (Property In Lieu Of Taxes) program and moving it to LoCIP (Local Capital Improvement Program).”
While city officials were expecting about $2 million in increased ECS (Educational Cost Sharing) allotment a week ago, Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said Tuesday night that only $649,476 of the increased ECS funding goes to the city’s operating budget. The rest goes to the BOE’s operating budget. That discrepancy is the reason he and Moccia are now saying Norwalk is $1.3 million in the hole, as far as state funding goes.
While more money in the BOE budget might sound good, Moccia said, the BOE must submit plans to the state about how the ECS money will be spent.
“The $2 million extra that we’re getting in ECS funds has more strings on it than Mario Puzo with ‘The Godfather,’” he said, remembering the book and film marionette-like logo. “The educational commissioner has said this has to be for new programs that he approves, it cannot help the city and the board of ed balance their budget … Big Brother in Hartford is now controlling us even moreso.”
Malloy said last week that LoCIP funds have been made more flexible. “Local governments can apply some or all of the capital equipment and technology purchases they routinely make out of their operating budgets to their LoCIP allocation,” he said in a statement.
Most city of Norwalk departments put their equipment purchases in the capital budget, Hamilton explained in a Tuesday morning email. The only exception is police vehicles, which are routinely put in the operating budget.
“The bottom line is that while I appreciate an increase in our LoCIP grant, and we will certainly make use of this grant to fund eligible expenses, the governor’s proposal to eliminate $852,000 in funding for the Pequot Grant (which went to the general fund to support general fund expenditures) and replace it with an increase to the LoCIP grant will cause a shortfall in the city’s general fund budget which must either be made up by reducing my recommended general fund budget (city and/or Board of Ed), or increasing taxes more than the 3.9 percent that I had proposed,” he said. “The proposal will help us to finance our capital budget, but it will hurt our ability to fund our general fund budget.”
Moccia is not happy about the suggestion that taxes go up higher than proposed.
“People are going to walk up and say, ‘You know what, you’re going to have to raise taxes,’” he said. “Then we’re going to have people saying don’t raise taxes. Then people are going to say cut here or don’t cut there. My question to everybody: I can’t cut anymore in the city. I can’t cut anymore. We’re down to 640 employees. For a city of our size – you’re not going to find a city of 85,000 people that has less employees than we do.”
Stamford has 40,000 more people and 1,100 employees, he said.
“There’s a limit,” he said. “There is an absolute limit.”