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Norwalk tax board looking to raise fees

Norwalk BET 030314 013
Board of Estimate and Taxation member Anne Yang-Dwyer questions Norwalk department heads last week.

NORWALK, Conn. – A clarion call has gone out to Norwalk department heads – please look into raising your fees. Compare what you charge with what other towns are charging and see if your fees can go up.

This is an effort being spearheaded by Board of Estimate and Taxation member Anne Yang-Dwyer, who is questioning every department head as they come in to review their 2014-15 operating budget requests, a yearly ritual made more dramatic by the need to trim $500,000 off Finance Director Thomas Hamilton’s recommendation. That’s the result of the cap set by the Common Council.

Yang-Dwyer has been told that any change in fee structure would go through the council, where such things have not gone well in the past.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Mike Mocciae showed up at the workshop with a request for $14,000 over and above the amount recommended by Hamilton to fund opening gymnasiums in South Norwalk. Yang-Dwyer heaped praise on him.

“I think the way Mike manages his department is a model for all of the departments in the city,” she said. “The fact that he produces $3 million in revenue and manages this acreage and number of parks with this few people is I think extraordinary. … If you look on a P&L basis, he pretty much comes close to covering his costs.”

Fees might cover the cost of opening the gymnasiums, she said.

It’s a “perfectly legitimate argument,” Hamilton said, “but I remind you it doesn’t help us with the cap because the cap is expenses minus intergovernmental revenues. You can increase other revenues all you want and it doesn’t help us achieve that $500,000 gap. We can only add intergovernmental revenue, make the state give us more, or subtract expenses in order to adjust that cap.”

That’s defined in the charter, he said.

“We’re kind of stuck with that,” he said. “It’s a problem because of exactly that issue. You could identify revenues that will reduce the tax levy but it doesn’t get us to where you need to get on the cap unless you’re taking it from gross expenditures or you’re increasing intergovernmental revenues somehow.”

Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy’s report also drew an explainer from Hamilton.

“The finance department had been pushing us for many years about fees,” McCarthy said. “The former fire marshal went to the Ordinance Committee and put in what I consider to be a very meager – compared to other communities – a very limited fee structure. It has yielded about $55,000 in revenue that we never had before. I think that we need to go back and look at additional fees.”

Waterbury has significant fees that could be used as a model for Norwalk, he said.

“I can tell you though that the Ordinance Committee was not interested the last time around in a wholesale increase in our fee collection.”

“I think the dynamic we have here, quite frankly, is the council’s role in the operating budget is pretty limited,” Hamilton said. “They set the cap but they don’t set the mill rate. They don’t have to make the kind of decisions that you have to make in terms of what are we going to cut to get down to the cap, nor do they vote on the mill rate and have to vote to raise taxes. They have control over the fees, but if they’re just looking at the fees they’re not looking at it in the context of ‘Oh, if I’m willing to go along and increase these fire fees it’s going to mean I can reduce the mill rate,’ because they don’t have a vote on the mill rate.”

Yang-Dwyer asked Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik the reasons behind a significant jump in revenues for his department.

“That’s all extra duty revenue,” Kulhawik said. “The city charges 15 percent on every extra duty job that an officer works (on top of the fee for the labor). … Over the last several years it went from nine to 12 to 15, based on collective bargaining agreement. In addition, the amount of extra duty has grown substantially over the last few years. So it went from budgeting for revenue of $275,000 three years ago, now it’s almost $600,000.”

Yang-Dwyer asked if the numbers could be raised on licenses and permits.

“We have done that; we look at that regularly.”

The volume is small, he said. “Our rates are almost the same or a little higher than most of the other cities around. Some don’t charge for anything at all,” he said.

What about charging for false alarms?

“We do, $25 each,” he said, adding that people get two false alarms before they get charged.

There is no charge for a false 911 call, he said. That would be counter-productive.

Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord came in prepared.

“We don’t have a lot of flexibility on fees,” he said. “… (But) we can’t tell you what other communities are doing. The reason is you can go to our website and find out every fee and rate we charge, and every program we have on the city’s website. You can’t find that on any other community in Connecticut. The reason I know that is Dick (Linnartz) spent like the last week and a half trying to find that information. It’s not there. We even called other communities and they didn’t have the time to tell us.”

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities couldn’t given them the information either, he said. But the did come up with a list of transfer station rates.

According to Alvord:

• Norwalk charges $85 a ton

• New Canaan charges $80 a ton

• Stamford charges $88 a ton

• Weston charges $85 a ton

• Wilton charges $93 a ton

• Darien charges $94 a ton

• Westport charges $85 a ton

• Greenwich doesn’t charge

“You can’t believe any of those numbers I just gave you because there are other additional peripheral rules,” Alvord said. “For example, in Stamford the residents can bring 200 pounds a day of garbage for free.”

You could bring 40,000 pounds of garbage to the transfer station over the course of a year if you lived in Stamford, he said.

Norwalk residents are not charged for garbage brought in the back of an SUV or a trunk, he said.

“We are fairly generous here in Norwalk as well,” he said. Anyone in a full-size pickup truck or a trailer goes across the scale, but they still get the first ton free, he said.

“That first ton free is over $350,000,” he said. “That’s what we’re paying for that ‘free tonnage’ to come into the transfer station. … It used to be three tons free. We made a proposal to take it to zero. The council decided to take it to one. The difference between three tons and one ton was $35,000. The difference between one ton and zero is over $350,000. So there’s still an opportunity to capture some revenue there that we don’t do today.”

Comments

13 responses to “Norwalk tax board looking to raise fees”

  1. John Hamlin

    So Alvors can’t figure out that he can send someone to other towns to determine their fees — or go himself?

  2. John Hamlin

    Great to compare our fees to those of other towns. And while we’re at it, let’s compare what they are paying their employees to what we are paying ours. I would bet Norwalk is paying a lot more. But no, heaven forbid we should pay at market. Just keep soaking the taxpayers.

  3. AG

    $600000 in police overtime? And we attack teacher salaries every year? That would pay for 12 new teachers or new police officers, why can’t they have shifts and hire cops that work alternative hours? They’d probably spend a lot less on regular salaries.

    Is there any other department where overtime like that is even an option?

  4. Suzanne

    John Hamlin, It’s called going to the relevant department of each nearby town, walking in the door, introducing yourself, asking the delineated questions from a list and, if the relevant person is not available, making an appointment to see them at a mutually convenient time to get the answers. Oh, and introducing yourself as a member of a like department from another town doing a survey for budget purposes, hardly private information. Calling, the Internet, WEB Sites? When has it become so impossible for a face to face meeting? What a pathetic excuse. A child could have figured out this one yet our Mr. Alvord says the information is either unavailable or impossible to find. With judicious phone calls made in an hour, face-to-face appointments could be made and the time taken one afternoon. What kind of thinking makes Public Works such an intelligence sink?

  5. spanner

    So far it isn’t sounding like Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy’s has been pushing for increase fees or inspections. McCarthy said. “The former fire marshal went to the Ordinance Committee and put in what I consider to be a very meager – compared to other communities – a very limited fee structure. It has yielded about $55,000 in revenue that we never had before. I think that we need to go back and look at additional fees.”

    Maybe our chief can fill us in on somethig that happens evey year in multiple locations in the city that is a very hot subject in the firefighting community.

    I bring the subject up because oraganizations ahve to factor in such expense at least a year in advance Norwalk has lost that year unless I am wrong.Not only is it a fee its city wide safety where Norwalk found itself in the forefront in the news.

    What about inspections of carnival rides and those who come into the city for inflateable rides for the day?

    amusement ride inspectors, operators, supervisors, and maintenance workers whose tasks include accident prevention.

    So far this sounds like the former fire marshal not liking a regional garage idea will pay for his professional thoughts.

    It would be nice to see Chief McCarthy’s report not to pick it apart but to confirm the standard of fire protection and what we can expect with the cost of running Norwalks dept. Hate to think we lost a year on Cranival ride and rental company permits and safety on the shoulders of one man.We have had a lot of great skilled firefighters over the years but Norwalk has one dept head that is responsible and it wasn’t a fire marshal.

    “The finance department had been pushing us for many years about fees,” McCarthy said. – compared to other communities –

    a very limited fee structure.

    I think that we need to go back and look at additional fees.”

    Thats a great idea.

  6. the donut hole

    Raise fees (taxes) then hire someone to manage those fees like the town clerk’s office or the city dump did. Then have the monies stolen from the taxpayers. Then after years of legal expenses we can finally fire them, but not until after they get to keep their pensions.
    .
    Enough of the nonsense. City workers need a 10% haircut across the board to make up for excessive above market pay they have been receiving for decades.
    .
    If they don’t like it, let them seek employment elsewhere. My hunch is in this job market and even at a reduced rate, you’ll still have an overwhelming number of qualified applicants. There isn’t one person working for the city that isn’t replaceable and it is high time people start realizing this.

  7. Piberman

    A splendid example of the consequences appointing BET members without financial or management experience. Rather than seeking to raise fees in a City whose per capita income has remained nearly stagnant for two decades – up only 10 period for that period – why not ask Dept Heads and administrators how they could reduce costs through better management, cost control, outsourcing, consolidation,etc and all the standard management techniques used in the private sector and in many cost conscious govt ones as well. By this proposal the BET again demonstrates it us not qualified to fulfill its mandate – keeping govt outlays affordable to our citizens. Everyone should read the BET minutes of their typically short meetings and demand much better performance. Our BET exerts no palpable control over City finances. Punitive taxes and stagnant property values reflect this poorly functioning body.

  8. the donut hole

    Mark, her background and experience makes it even more inexplicable as to why she would ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room. The problem with Norwalk government is not a lack of revenue generation, rather it is paying over market value for labor.
    .
    Ask Ms. Dwyer how many of her venture capital prospects had human capital with guaranteed raises, total job and retirement security, and above market wages. I can tell you how many without asking. ZERO. Norwalk government is operated in fantasy land where money grows on trees and the solution to every problem is raising taxes and fees. At the current rates of growth property taxes in Norwalk will exceed per capita income in about 30 years.

  9. Don’t Panic

    While we are comparing transfer station rates to other towns, can we also compare the services? Are they picking up yard waste more than a couple of times a year? Are they all single stream recycling? Do they use private haulers or municipal employees?

  10. bill

    Where is Rilling on this? When is he going to stand up to the unions and say enough is enough?

  11. spanner

    @ Bill- Harry is busy running for office,not for himself for those who made sure we had the Mayor of choice.Running for State office is very important this year,those in the political circle have seen others ripped from office by roookies and for good reason.

    When a democrat wished some of those republicans who ran for the State house would of won in years past it shows the climate right now is ripe for a change.

    Where has our s State money gone?What has it done in the last couple of years to ensure a great train ride,a decent highway to travel on,a steady flow of money to off set our city expense?

    Where is the report cards for our State reps?

    We know they have plenty of stars and awards but what about the marks has school changed so much that advancement is not what you have done among your class mates?

    We are talking Norwalk taxes,wondering where our Sate dollars have gone.

  12. piberman

    Mr. Chapman

    You raise an interesting point. What constitutes the desired financial management experience relevant for an effective participation in a BET long viewed as an “amen chorus” (see their meetings minutes) ? In the old days when the City was well managed and well thought of local business folks did quite well on the BET. Some of them whom I knew quite well knew the City budget inside and out and kept the officials on their toes. They did their homework. They understood costs, benefits and responsibilities. Most never went to college nor worked for large firms. But they were real businessmen who understood the consequence of failure.

    Alas, the responsibilities working in large corporations are quite different. There legions work together with no one really responsible for outcomes save the head honcho. Everyone works in a team environment. As for the mundane work of reading budgets why that’s work for accountants. Investment banking experience and managing portfolios is nice. But its not relevant to making an effective EFT. Nor running or managing the financial affairs of a City.

    The obvious question is why would anyone well versed in the City’s history — per capita spending up 55% over the past 2 decades, per capita incomes just up 10% over the same period, paying the 5th highest teacher salaries in the state while ranking well down the list in incomes among the 169 towns, aware of stagnant properties and Grand Lists, redevelopment problems, etc. — not think about asking Dept Heads to reduce costs through more effective management, cost savings, reorganizations, new technologies, outsourcing and all the modern tools of management ? But instead propose new “fees” for residents already over burdened by punitive real estate taxes.

    No BET can ever be effective if its members are seemingly ignorant of our City’s fiscal affairs, history and internal management. The proposal for new “fees” demonstrates that point most pointedly. Its really quite embarrassing for a BET member to propose new fees. And a background in investing doesn’t make it a good idea.

    You might inquire whether our surrounding towns who make it a matter of real civic pride in hiring the best people available have considered raising “fees”. We really don’t have high expectations of our BET. But proposing to “raise fees” really does cross the line of what us old timers call “commonsense”. Just ask us.

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