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Opinion: Norwalk taxpayers get first look at prelim budget this week

NORWALK, Conn. – Things are about to get interesting – as if they are not already – for Norwalk taxpayers and Mayor Harry Rilling’s administration.

The public will get its first glimpse at the direction of the city’s 2014-15 operating budget when Finance Director Tom Hamilton presents his recommended financial blueprint Monday night to the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

The budget unveiling kicks off a calendar of events that will lead to setting the final budget and tax rates on Monday, May. 5

It is a long, laborious process that can resemble a stroll through a minefield for politicians and department heads.

Here’s how it goes:

After the official presentation at Monday night’s BET meeting (7:30 p.m., Council Chamber), Hamilton will deliver his budget to the Common Council at its Tuesday night meeting (7:30 p.m.). On Friday, Hamilton will publish the document on the city website.

On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the Common Council will set the preliminary operating budget cap.

Over the ensuing weeks, all city departments will hash out the numbers, tryin to come as close to the council’s cap as possible. Then, on Wednesday, March 19, there will be a public hearing in Concert Hall. Three weeks later – on April 8 – the Council sets the final cap. The final budget will be published April 18.

The city has already been made privvy to the Board of Education’s $168.1 million request, a 3.6 percent increase over the current year. The schools eat up more of each resident’s tax bill than any other department. According to the 2013-14 budget, Norwalk’s median tax bill is $6,389, and the BOE gets $3,954 of it.

Other big budget bites come from police ($694), fire ($576), Department of Public Works ($450) and debt service ($278).

With a new mayor onboard after eight years of Richard Moccia – and new faces on the BET – taxpayers will be watching to see where their money is going, and just how much they will be expected to pay. Republican BET Chairman Fred Wilms, roundly regarded as having a major say in Moccia’s budgets, was not reappointed by Mayor Harry Rilling, who filled three expired terms this winter, naming Democrats Greg Burnett and Edwin Camacho and Republican Anne Yang-Dwyer to the board. With Rilling replacing Moccia, the political balance now favors the Democrats.

Early reports are that city insurance expenditures are down and building permit income is up, taking some of the pressure off the taxpayers.

The trend over the past three years has been escalating tax levies. In 2011-12, the budget increased 2.7 percent, with a corresponding 2 percent levy increase. In 2012-13, the budget went up 3 percent with a matching levy increase. In 2013-14, despite a freeze on teacher wages, the budget increased 4.2 percent, with a 3.6 percent levy increase.

During his campaign for mayor, Rilling promised to fix more sidewalks, consider more bike lanes and give some TLC to recreational facilities in underprivileged areas. He also spoke of the need for programs aimed at keeping young people involved in positive activities. Rilling also attracted the backing of most of the city’s unions, leading many detractors to express concern about what it all means for their tax rate.

Rilling said during the campaign he would be looking for outside funding whenever possible, and would look for economies in the budget to take some of the upward pressure off the taxpayers.

The bottom line is that the BET – on which Rilling sits — recommends the budget, but it is the Common Council, with a Republican majority, that sets the spending cap.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your calculators.

Comments

4 responses to “Opinion: Norwalk taxpayers get first look at prelim budget this week”

  1. Bill

    Time for Rilling to step up and stand with the students and taxpayers. Dont give all the money to public union employees.

  2. Piberman

    Retaining the same team of Dept heads and administrators ensures a 4 to 5 % tax hike for Mayor Rilling’s first year. Since 1996-97 Norwalk’s per capita municipal budget outlays have increased more than 50%. But per capita income is up not much more than 10%. Norwalk’s taxpayers joyfully pay the highest municipal salaries of any CT city. And have the stagnant property values to show for their unique generosity and political leadership.

  3. Taxpayer Fatigue

    Unfortunately, Rilling is stuck with all of the department heads and administrators because they all of have generous contracts thanks to Mayor Moccia (and at least one, planning and zoning, is in the union – thank you Mayor Esposito!). Rilling didn’t agree to give away everything to the unions – he said he would treat them respectfully – aka, fire Haselkamp – which he did. Rilling would fire at least a couple of the department heads if he could and I am sure is still looking for ways to do so.

    The mayor can make whatever recommendations he wants to and I seriously doubt they will include a “4 to 5%” tax increase, but it is the REPUBLICAN MAJORITY on the Council that will set the budget cap, which is the same as setting the tax increase.

    Piberman, i agree with much of what you say, but you should be directing your continuous partisan vitriol at Doug Hempstead and the other members of your party that are on the council and the previous republican mayors who got us into this mess, and who are actually the ones who make the decision on what the tax increase is going to be.

  4. Piberman

    Taxpayer Fatique

    Most City Dept Heads serve at the Mayor’s behest. So it’s now his team. Mayor Rilling had the opportunity to appoint major league finance professionals to the BET. He failed to do so and appointed incredulously the former NEON Board Chair. Instead of using professional head hunters to replace two positions the Mayor uses ads. None of these actions are the actions of an experienced manager. Or a mayor who wants to regain control of a City finances.

    Sorry to disappoint you but I am not a member of Councilman Hempstead’s party. And yes the GOP property earns the blame for Norwalk’s 50% plus tax/spending hike over the past 2 decades while incomes were little changed. But based on the first 3 months there’s no reason to expect Mayor Rilling will not follow similar tax and spend tax policies. City finances will continue to be directed by the Finance Head with the Council, BET and mayor serving on the sidelines. There is no city politician who sees the links between spending, taxes, wages, housing values and stagnant incomes. Far above their pay grade. And, sadly, competence.

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