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Norwalk sets $317.5 million 2014-15 operating budget

Norwalk Board of Estimate BET 050514 032
Norwalk Board of Estimate and Taxation Chairman Jim Clark and Mayor Harry Rilling confer Monday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – A windfall from the state combined with some subtractions and additions by the Board of Estimate and Taxation resulted Monday night in a 2014-2015 Norwalk operating budget that is $779,494 below the cap set by the Common Council.

Mayor Harry Rilling was quick to point out that the $317,542,155 budget is “only” $500,000 more than the increases that were contractually mandated.
Newly included in the final budget document is a $30,000 “placeholder’ to help the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum survive a drop in business this summer due to construction and $30,461 to help the Norwalk Housing Authority fund its early childcare programs, although the authority had asked for $249,000. The lower amount will cover the expected shortfall, members said. The rest would have been for administrative costs.

The resultant mill rates are as follows:

• First District 25.041

• Second District 25.041

• Third District 25.041

• Fourth District 25.100

• Fifth District 24.328

• Sixth District 22.425

• Motor vehicle mill rate 28.241

The state notified Norwalk on Monday afternoon that the city would be receiving $231,000 in revenue sharing, Director of Management and Budgets Bob Barron said. This is a delayed payment, he said.

Two years ago the sales tax went up .1 percent, to which a formula was applied, Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said. Last year the law was changed, which, state officials said, technically exempted them making a payment, “even though that was not the intent” of the law, Hamilton said.

Barron said Norwalk got a portion of that money, which had been expected in August 2013.

“It’s two years late, but we’re glad we’re getting it,” Barron said.

Subtracted from the budget was $22,800 for the city’s early childhood program, because an unexpected grant is coming in. Additions included the money for Lockwood-Mathews and the Housing Authority, plus $3,800 to the Fair Housing Office and $680 to the sister city project. The adjustments total $44,141.

The resultant budget total is $8,114,206 higher than last year, a 2.6 percent increase, Hamilton said. Of that, $7.6 million is mandated by collective bargaining agreements and pension fund additions, he said. What is left is a $514,206 increase not related to mandated obligations, Rilling said.

“Good job ladies and gentlemen,” he said.

The Housing Authority was notified two days ago that it was getting a $1,561,000 Head Start award from the federal government instead of the expected $1.4 million, Barron said.

“They were incredibly forthcoming with this incremental $161,000 because they wanted to make it right and represented correctly,” Barron said.

The Authority took the percentage of people in the childcare programs (436 children) as compared to the number of people served overall to come up with the $249,000 request, to cover allocated administrative costs, Barron said. However, BET members said, the administrative cost of the program is not incurred in addition to activities in which the NHA is already involved. The staff that is there at present is making Head Start and School readiness programs work, they said, allowing for the $218,000-plus reduction.

BET member Anne Yang-Dwyer said additional overhead should be discussed in the next budget cycle.

“The money is already there. I think that if they were able to find 161 I suspect they will be able to fund this program and I think the program will still be a spectacular program and will benefit the children that it should,” she said. “… It is not clear that (the additional money) is necessary and we are talking about the taxpayer dollars here, at the end of the budget cycle.”

The $30,461 is 5 percent of the overall cost of the program. It recognizes that the Authority is bargaining in good faith, BET Chairman Jim Clark said.

The BET had, in previous meetings, declined to help the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion board of directors get through the summer, but decided to allow $30,000 to cover expenses while an elevator is installed and work is done on the bathrooms.

Board Chairwoman Patsy Brescia admitted she had arbitrarily selected the $30,000 figure. But the board is working hard to improve a city-owned building, she said. The work was planned to be done earlier this year, before the tourist season, but there were delays with paperwork at the state level.

The board had raised $95,000 in the first four months of the year and is working with corporations, she said. In the 15 years she has been involved the board has never come to the city for additional help, she said.

The actual estimated shortfall is $100,000, she said.

“The $30,000 was arbitrary. I thought it might be realistic to come to the city to ask for you to help us help your building. Not ours. Yours,” she said.

The board has put in more than $1 million in privately donated money to improve the building, BET member Erik Anderson said. The project will make it American Disabilities Act compliant, according to BET member Ed Camacho.

The board would be able to draw down from the $30,000 as needed, Rilling said. More would have to be obtained through special appropriations, Barron said.

“If it has that kind of merit in terms of improvement to a city building, then it should be able to stand the test of this committee and the Common Council,” said Yang-Dwyer.

Yang-Dwyer and Gregory Burnett voted against the expenditure. Jim Feigenbaum, Rilling, Clark, Anderson and Camacho voted for it.

Not included in the budget is money that would have allowed the council to fund the Travis Simms Foundation youth boxing program. The BET rejected allocating $43,500 to fund the Mayor’s Youth Summer Employment Program and Neighborhood Coordinator. Funding those items would have allowed them to be removed from the Community Development Block Grant program, freeing up funds that could have been used for the former World Boxing Association Super Welterweight Champion and current District B Common Councilman’s proposed program.

Comments

11 responses to “Norwalk sets $317.5 million 2014-15 operating budget”

  1. piberman

    The Mayor is “pleased”. Not so homeowners faced with ever higher property taxes continued stagnant property values amidst a naitonal housing recovery and economic expansion. Despite the Mayor’s claim that 85% of the budget is “mandated” City collective bargaining agreements do not preclude layoffs. Nor is the Mayor precluded by hiring more competent administrators or asking existing ones to do more with less resources. Rather than the “New Norwalk” the Mayor is continuing the “Old Norwalk” where City budgets impose further burdens on a City where per capita personal incomes have increased only 10% over the past 2 decades while the budgets have increased 55%. No wonder potential newcomers and businesses avoid locating in Norwalk. With better City management Nowalk is destined to become the “renters capital” of Fairfield County. Of course, the increased City budget for same services comes as no surprise. Early on the Mayor appointed the Board Chairman of the egregiously managed NEON to the BET – an appointment without obvious merit. And the BET dutifully fulfilled its long standing “amen chorus” function approving the budget laid down by the Finance Head. What is Norwalk’s future as long as the Finance Head sets the budget and elected/appointed officials always approve ? Aren’t there any elected/appointed officials with analytical financial capability ? Arent there any City managers who can do “more with less” ? Or do we just fund the same services year after year without any evidence of innovation or cost savings efficiency ? No wonder we’re refered to as the “hole in the middle of the donut” surrounded by well managed towns.

  2. Bill

    Tie public union pay growth to private sector real wage growth, and you will have a just system that is sustainable, not the current tax payer extortion we currently get that is causing people to leave the city and the state.

  3. Bill, you raise a good point. Municipalities negotiate contracts in the shadow of the state arbitration system, in which arbitrators are guided by what other public sector unions are getting around the state, rather than what private sector employees make (or by general economic conditions, taxpayer burdens or other important measures). The process is thus systemically skewed in favor of the unions (which is why our public sector employees are among the best paid in the country, and make considerably more than private sector employees doing the same work). This is not to say that we can’t negotiate better contracts (I think we’ve done a good job of that the last two years at the BoE), but the existing collective bargaining agreements are a real millstone around our necks.

  4. anonymous

    2.5% to Norwalk’s public sector union employees mandated raises in salary/benefits. Who gets raises in this economy except unions?

    R E S P E C T

  5. Piberman

    Mike Lyons:
    It wasn’t the tooth fairy that negotiated current City union contracts. Nor was it the tooth fairy that negotiated 5th highest teacher contracts in the state and highest salaries for any CT city. It was Democrat and Republican elected officials looking back several decades. Thank you Mayor Moccia. No reason to blame state arbitrators or the system. Norwalk’s elected leaders did it all by themselves putting public union interests above taxpayer interests. Mayor Rilling sees no reason to change the system. He’s a product of the system.

    The costs of excessive union contracts negotiated by inept yes, (inept) City officials is readily visible in our stagnant resident properties. Punitive increasing real estate taxes levied on a community whose per capita income has barely increased over 2 decades discourages new comers from buying homes and businesses from investing here. Depressed housing values is the result.

    There’s no mystery to getting better governance in Norwalk. Just elect much more competent officials who have some elementary knowledge of finance and accounting. That’s a pretty big challenge for Norwalk where public bodies are known as the “amen choruses”. A Mayor who understands finance and has private sector managerial experience could get the ball rolling. But that’s asking for more than either party can deliver. Much more.

    Meanwhile take satisfaction in funding the highest paid employees of any City in CT. Isn’t that wonderful !

  6. Bill

    @Mike Lyons, although I choose to remain anonymous on here, I want to thank you on behalf of all level headed middle class taxpayers. You have done a great, pragmatic job balancing the needs of the students with those of the taxpayers.

  7. Suzanne

    Glad to see this includes things like education, housing and a museum. Presumably, the Oak Hills Golf Course will not be seeing any of this budget this year.

  8. Taxpayer Fatigue

    Berman, if you attended any of the budget meetings and actually looked at spending history, most departments are doing more with much, much less – particularly DPW and Parks and Rec. Their staffing has gone down significantly over the past ten years. Yes, Esposito, Knopp and Moccia gave away the store to the unions, though you have to blame the BOE for the teachers. I volunteer on various projects for the city and have worked closely with most of the dept heads and many other city staff over the years. With the exception of a couple employees, for the most part the staff I have worked with are competent and work very hard. I don’t mind paying people well who work hard. You seem to think that department heads should be miracle workers who are paid no more than $50k per year. You live in conservative fantasy land. The rest of us live in Fairfield County, where you qualify for workforce housing if your family income is less than $80k per year.

    I agree that union budgets need to be reined in with the teachers and police being the most egregious in Norwalk. With over 60% of the city’s budget going to the BOE, there will be NO progress on lowering our taxes, something you never mention as you rail against city employees and the mayor. Unless ECS gets fixed, we will continue to have high taxes. Why don’t you get a copy of the budget, attend some BET meetings and try and make some constructive recommendations? I guess it’s just more fun to play the Rilling blame game.

  9. Dennis DiManis

    How can we conscience having the highest school salaries when the results (SAT scores and college admissions) are famously lousy?

  10. anon

    @anonymous unions spell respect this way R$E$S$P$E$C$T

  11. Non partisan

    It’s not one issue with one solution.

    The city needs to deliver a balanced set of services at a reasonable cost.

    The problem starts with a progressive legislature and regulations that encourage- no dictate- that real estate is not used to its best economy use and advantage. By encouraging and requiring subsidized housing be placed in prime land we reduce potential values, the grand list, and imcrease home owner ( and landlord) tax burdens.

    The added residential units also have a disproportionate cost on the expense side.

    Yes it is true that the regulation has some very good and noteworthy society benefits- but those benefits come at a cost. As a society and especially in Norwalk, we need to ask ourselves if we can afford these costs, or if these policies are having some significant unintended consequences that are leading to our overall decline

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