NORWALK, Conn. — Some Norwalk political notes for you:
- OHPA to discuss sledding
- Efficiency study expected
- Politicians celebrate funding for Norwalk-based nonprofits
- A Darien reply
OHPA Chairman ‘open’ to allowing sledding
It’s true that no one is “officially allowed” to be on the Oak Hills Park golf course when it is closed, Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Mike DePalma said last week, confirming that citizens are unable to go sledding on the golf course, as described by Paul Cantor in a letter to the editor.
DePalma wrote, “We have asked City Hall to meet with us to provide more guidance on this. Per our by-laws, the Authority is technically in a lease agreement with the City, which I interpret to mean that decisions like this should come from City Hall, so I am trying to find the firm answer on this.”
He continued, “Personally, I am open to allowing people to sled on the course. I am adding a discussion item on this issue to the agenda of our monthly meeting so that we can gather input and hear ideas from all of the members and executive staff of the course. One of the ideas I brought up was potentially designating certain areas for sledding. Whether that’s realistic or not I don’t know, but I feel like this discussion should be had in an open meeting so it’s on the record and everyone has access to the information.”
DePalma confirmed a quote in Cantor’s letter, saying that it was Park General Manager Don Mastronardi who said, “NO taxpayer dollars go into the maintenance of the park.”
While Cantor pointed out that Norwalk taxpayers have funded loans to the Authority, which have had their interest rates slashed multiple times, DePalma said, “We don’t receive taxpayer dollars for any of our operational costs.”
Efficiency on the way
Draft recommendations from the City/NPS efficiency study are expected mid-month, Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz said. It’s hoped that the final report will become public in mid-March.
In July, the Common Council approved at $275,000 contract with Evergreen Solutions Inc. to conduct an “operations review and efficiency study.” The BoE was said to be paying $118,000 and the City paying $157,500.
“This is the first time we’re going to have a third-party firm reviewing our facts and figures and making sure that they’re informing us of those items that maybe we didn’t know,” then-Council President Nicholas Sacchinelli (D-At Large) said at the time. “So, I’m very optimistic of having something like this in place for the next budget cycle to be more informed than ever.”
The idea of an efficiency study first became public in February 2020 and was mentioned repeatedly during last year’s budget deliberations as a hoped-for avenue to avoid the financial “cliff” then-Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton warned about. Some suggest that the study might result in cost savings that would help negate the impact of the increasing schools budget.
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella has said that while the study could bring about a more efficient working relationship between the City and the school district, “it could go either way” as far as reducing costs goes, since it might also reveal areas where more staff is needed.
Dachowitz, on Jan. 13, said, “If there are a lot of changes after the mid-February discussions,” the public release might be delayed. But he was pleased, he said, that the Council should have the results in time for this year’s budget cycle.
Norwalk nonprofits receive ‘unrestricted’ grants
State Rep. Stephanie Thomas (D-143) held an event last week to celebrate nearly $400,000 handed out to 21 Norwalk-based nonprofits via Connecticut Cultural Fund Operating Support Grants from Connecticut Humanities.
Thomas called this “an example of how government works” and spoke of “little things” that add up to money trickling down to where the community needs it. She had sent news of the opportunity to David Green of the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County and to people she’d only met, and applications came in.
The grants represent “unrestricted funding” that “is an essential tool for organizations that often face restrictions from donors on how they can use their donations,” she said. “These operating support grants can literally help keep the lights on, pay for job posting, pay for professional development, or any number of things to help institutions keep their doors open during this challenging time.”
State Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142) noted that $31,200 might not sound like a lot, but, “These are really important funds that do a lot … This organization offers internships and scholarships to many, and this grant money will be instrumental in ensuring that the Center for Contemporary printmaking continues to share the art of original prints and offers opportunities to aspiring artists all over Norwalk and beyond.”
According to a press release, the grants went to:
- American Chamber Orchestra – $6,300
- Center for Contemporary Printmaking – $31,200
- Creative Connections – $28,500
- Crystal Theatre – $18,100
- Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County/The Norwalk Art Space – $10,800
- East Coast Contemporary Ballet Company – $7,700
- Historic Rowayton – $8,900
- Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum – $33,600
- Music Theatre of CT – $42,100
- Norwalk Historical Society – $12,100
- Norwalk International Cultural Exchange – $8,500
- Norwalk Preservation Trust – $5,600
- Norwalk Seaport Association – $55,300
- Norwalk Symphony Orchestra – $24,500
- Rowayton Arts Center – $20,200
- Southern Connecticut Camerata – $5,700
- The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk – $355,200
- The Norwalk Youth Symphony – $21,200
- Thomas/Ortiz Dance – $6,000
- Wall Street Theater – $39,900
- Stepping Stones Museum for Children – $5,000
Green observed that of the $16 million distributed to 630 organizations statewide, “111 of those were in our 15-town area of coastal Fairfield County.”
“Six of the 21 recipients of these grants are right here in Matthews Park,” Green said. “… We have here a wonderful cultural center, we could say a cultural district, and I think many of us hope that the Norwalk City Council might be interested in passing cultural district legislation recognizing this and other areas of Norwalk as cultural and tourism destinations that pull people off I-95.”
“This is why people move here, this is why they stay here. This is why they raise their families here, because we have such great cultural institutions in our communities,” State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) said, telling Thomas that he was “thrilled” that “thanks to your emailing and your cajoling and everything else, (you) have gotten more people to apply for these funds.”
And, lastly, a response Duff received after urging the Darien Board of Education to reconsider its 5-4 vote to not allow Open Choice in the fall:
“Last legislative session we were proud to expand the successful Open Choice program to include Norwalk, opening the door for students to attend public schools in surrounding towns, including Darien,” Duff, State Sen. Will Haskell (D-26) and State Sen. Pat Billie Miller (D-27) said in their Thursday statement. “Open Choice is a win-win, allowing both urban and suburban students to gain exposure to new communities and experiences. Strengthening the understandings of diversity and inclusion among our young people cannot be done with just a mission statement. Diversity and inclusion are lived, not just promised. We call on the Darien Board of Education to reconsider their rejection of the Open Choice Program and do what is best for both Darien and Norwalk students.”