8:36 a.m.: Correction, not a primary funder of any agency except Fair Housing; 9:39 a.m., library program part-timers are employees.
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk would take over the cost of a Norwalk Public Library literacy program — against established city policy — and the South Norwalk Community Center would get more first-year funding than originally planned in the proposed 2014-15 operating budget that will be the topic of a public hearing next week.
The Board of Estimate and Taxation on Wednesday affirmed support for spending $36,600 on the library program, saying it hoped it would be a temporary measure. The board added $7,500 to the $10,000 originally recommended for SoNoCC support, and boosted the amount to be spent on supplies for Fair Housing Officer Margaret Suib, in view of the need to comply with the court order that created her position.
The Recreation and Parks department’s request to put an electrician on staff is as yet not approved for funding. Additional money for the Domestic Violence Crisis Center was also denied.
The library program has been funded for 37 years by the Bridgeport non-profit FSW, library Director Chris Bradley said in the budget workshop held last week. The grant was discontinued last year. The library’s board had enough money to keep it going for a year, Bradley said, while she searched for another agency to serve the clients. That was unsuccessful.
Bradley said she had looked into grants for the program but non-profits are struggling to get funding.
There are 208 people enrolled to learn English as a second language, which is taught by 40 to 50 volunteers, and 38 people on a waiting list. The volunteers are coordinated by two part-time
volunteers employees, one at 15 hours a week and the other at 19, both getting $18 an hour. Most live in Norwalk, Bradley said.
“Our normal position is that if the grant goes away the, service goes away,” Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said.
BET member Anne Yang-Dwyer suggested charging a fee to the people using the service.
“I am completely sympathetic to the immigrant experience and the need to learn English,” she said, explaining that her parents came here from China. “… Even at a minimum, if someone is able to contribute $50 or $100 to the funding at of this program — they are getting a very valuable service.”
BET Chairman Jim Clark suggested Wednesday that it might be a good idea to follow Hamilton’s recommended budget and fund the program.
“We can fund this for a year and tell them, ‘Now you have a year to look for grant funding,’ because they had grant funding for so long,” he said. “But now they are under pressure and if we let it lapse they might lose the opportunity to serve, and that gives them over a year to look for grants.”
He added that Bradley is looking into a sliding scale for clients.
“I like your idea of putting in there at least for this year and then challenging them to try to find some other kinds of funding streams, the revenue streams… There has to be some grant,” Mayor Harry Rilling said.
The SoNoCC requested a $50,000 city grant. A review committee, which included Clark, recommended $10,000.
“We are not a primary funder of any agency, except the Fair Housing Office,” Clark said Wednesday. “… Since we have met, they have been taking on quite a number of other services and serving the population in a broader way. I would like to recommend that we up that a little bit to 17.5.”
“We are still trying to muddle our way through the NEON issue with how that is going to evolve as a CAP (Community Action Partnership) agency and what the final outcome is going to be,” Rilling said. “I do know that the South Norwalk Community Center has been in discussions with the school system regarding a lot of different program that they want to provide, and space they want to provide for school programs and things which will serve across all communities. … I would definitely support that. I think that’s a fair amount.”
When the application was made, the center’s leaders did not seem to have a clear mission statement or target population, Director of Management and Budgets Bob Barron said.
“They have facility that has been under-utilized because they really have been operating on a shoestring” under NEON’s umbrella, said BET member Ed Camacho, who said he served on the SoNoCC board briefly.
Asking for $50,000 in first-year funding was too much, Hamilton said.
“I agree that we need to figure out exactly how to get them acceptable accounting procedures and make sure the money is allocated in a way that benefits the greatest good,” he said.
The Fair Housing office moved out of the Redevelopment Agency office in City Hall and into the neighboring Board of Health building in 2012. Suib said she has consequently been buying paper and supplies herself.
Suib is paid through the Redevelopment Agency. Initially she walked over to the agency’s office to use the machines there and get things from the supply closet.
“I was ordered not to. I was told I may not take supplies. I may not use the copying machine,” she said.
She had requested an administrative assistant.
“I am working incredibly long hours,” she said. “… I love my job, so part of me doesn’t mind, but I do need some help and I don’t know any other office that is a one-person show.”
Her position was created as a result of a 1986 court order, the conclusion of a lawsuit filed by the NAACP Norwalk branch against the city alleging housing discrimination. Her contention was that not giving her the support she needed was in violation of the spirit of that order.
It was her idea to move out of the Redevelopment office, officials said, without a specific explanation.
Hamilton said she was getting the same money she had always gotten for supplies. BET member Greg Burnett said he thought giving her a part-time employee was a “bit of a stretch.” Clark suggested getting her an intern.
“For me, that would honor the spirit of the agreement, to make her feel that she was heard,” he said.
The board agreed. The budget now calls for $7,500 in supplies, $3,800 more than was planned.
The Domestic Violence Crisis Center requested $15,000. Hamilton recommended $5,894 in accordance with the 2 percent baseline increase over previous funding that all outside agencies were eligible for.
Camacho said he thought the center deserved more, and Clark told him that there could be further discussion.
Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mocciae had requested a full-time electrician. That’s not in the proposed budget.
The proposed cost was $62,142. Mocciae said it would save $110,000 to $135,000 a year because it would be more efficient than outsourcing.
“The thing that I was concerned about was when he said, ‘well, if he’s not doing electrical work we can use him for other things,’” Rilling said. “Well, OK, this may be a back-door way of just getting another staff person for the parks. I don’t think an electrician is somebody we want to have on staff, or if you’re going to get an electrcian for $62,000,” Rilling said.
The position may yet be added.
“I would like to give Mike Mocciae the opportunity to do a cost-benefit analysis,” Clark said. “If he does a cost-benefit analysis and it shows that really there is $135,000 there, maybe he would find it by helping the Historical Commission to take care of city buildings. … With the information we have I can’t really see keeping it in.”