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Rilling Proposes $442.7 Million Norwalk Budget, 4.5% Increase Over Last Year

A look inside the proposed 2024-2025 budget (Courtesy of Norwalk)

Mayor Harry Rilling on Tuesday night proposed a draft 2024 Norwalk budget of $442.7 million, split between $236.8 million in spending for the school district and $205.9 million for city operations. 

The total represents  a 4.5% increase over last year’s $423.7 million budget. 

Rilling, calling 2024 ”the most difficult” budget year he’s known, said that this was a first draft of the budget and an updated proposal would be made after a public hearing Thursday night. 

Residents looking to weigh in on the budget can do so on Thursday, February 15 at 6 p.m. at a public hearing at the Finance and Claims Committee of the Common Council. A final budget cap of the Common Council is scheduled April 9, with final budget approval in May. 

“It always is and always has been my position that we do everything we can to keep our budget as low as possible so that we do not overtax the citizens of our wonderful city,” Rilling said. “This has been a particularly difficult budget year. I know that I say that every year but I think this has been the most difficult.”

Tom Ellis, the city’s director of management and budgets, said that the proposed budget split was one of the most “equitable” he’s seen with a 4.5% increase or an additional $10.2 million for the Board of Education and a 4.46% increase or an additional $8.8 million for the city.

“This is a balanced budget,” Ellis said. “It’s fair. I’ve never seen it this fair.”

A Look Inside the Budget

The biggest cost drivers on the city side of the proposed budget were increases in the city’s debt service payments and pension funds, Ellis said. The debt service, or payments on principal and interest to the city’s bond investors, increase  $2.3 million to a total of $42.6 million, and the city’s pension payments rise up $2.2 million to $20.4 million, or a 12.4% increase from the year before. Ellis said that “unfortunately our biggest drivers are the ones we have no control over. So whatever adjustments we have are looking to do going forward or not, these are not options for reducing.” 

The key sources of reduced spending, he said, were “decent savings on the health benefits and workers comp,” Ellis said. 

The other major budget factor, Ellis said, was increased funding for the city’s contingency. All of its bargaining units are in contract negotiations and need money available as the contracts are not final yet. 

Rilling said that he asked all departments to come in with a proposed increase no larger than 3%. Some areas did better than others.

The Public Works and Police and Combined Dispatch departments proposed a 3% increase. The Finance Department had an increase of 6.7%, which Ellis said was due to cybersecurity insurance and additional software and hardware improvements. 

Other increases included a 16.9% increase for the Chief of Staff’s Office, which Ellis said was due to positions added last year that became full time for this cycle.

A look at the proposed budget by city department. (Courtesy of Norwalk)

While across the city departments 18 new positions were requested, in this version of the budget, none of them were funded. We’ve taken them all out of there because of the cost involved,” Rilling said.

Council members asked for a list and some said that they’d like to see if a few could be added. 

“I just really feel like there are some positions—I hope there’s one or two that we are able to support at some point,” Council President Darlene Young said. “But I understand the restraints we’re under and I appreciate all the work that goes into this.”

Young added that she knew there was a “great need” for some of the positions in the city. 

One of the positions was a chief of cybersecurity, something that Council member Nora Niedzielski-Eichner said was a concern to the council. 

“ I think we have a particular concern around it and making sure that we really have all of our departments have the resources that they need from our IT department to be able to move their work forward,” she said. “I think as the world goes more and more online, it really becomes increasingly pressing for us to be able to meet the technology needs of the city.”

The proposed budget also calls for a $6 million drawdown from the city’s rainy day fund. 

Ellis said that because this was “only the first step” they didn’t have the breakdowns by each taxing district for the impact on residents just yet. 

Ellis also noted that all of the city’s federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and other COVID-related federal dollars have been allocated to projects.

Next Steps:

Residents looking to weigh in on the budget can do so on Thursday, February 15 at 6 p.m. at a public hearing at the Finance and Claims Committee of the Common Council. 

After the public hearing  Thursday evening, the city staff will take residents’ recommendations into account before the Common Council sets a budget cap and the Board of Estimate and Taxation starts meeting with departments to review their budgets. 

The Board of Estimate and Taxation will hold a public hearing on March 20, and the final budget cap of the Common Council is expected to be set on April 9, ahead of the final budget approval in May.

Comments

8 responses to “Rilling Proposes $442.7 Million Norwalk Budget, 4.5% Increase Over Last Year”

  1. Skip Hagerty

    It’s great that the budget is “equitable”. Hopefully that can continue in future years despite the Equity & Inclusion Officer only being paid $164k this year and $187k next.

  2. Bryan Meek

    Does “equitable” mean everyone is going to be back in the office 5 days a week? Or are some still more equal than others?

  3. Bryan Meek

    The picture of the skate park is perfect.

    At least with another $8 million cut from education the kids will be able to hone their skills for the X games.

    After cutting things like computer science from the NHS curriculum last year, what will be next?

    Eliminating Math should do the trick.

    Then maybe the city can hire its Chief of Cybersecurity to show the kids how to use ChatGPT, working remotely of course.

  4. Bryan Meek

    Speaking of math, when you factor in the $6 million rainy day drawdown and the $1.7 million cut to OPEB, this budget increase is really north of 8%. While the mayor uses these slush funds to disguise massive increases in spending the reality is this IS OUR money…Money that we were overtaxed on in years prior. This is not sound financial management. This is taxpayer abuse.

  5. DIana Paladino

    @ Skip Hagerty. I think those are expenses not salary?

    1. Skip Hagerty

      Thank goodness. So, maybe the city’s E&I initiatives aren’t as grossly underfunded as I had feared.

  6. Justin Matley

    This is the fairest first shot across the bow that I’ve seen by the Mayor, so I commend that. That said, this is now, according to my own records from both private and public correspondence, the 6th year in a row where the Mayor has said something along the lines of it being “a particularly difficult budget year” or “the hardest budget to date”.

    I do not discount that perhaps each year has gotten harder than the last – perhaps it has – but I do take issue with the rhetoric. It highlights a general lack of transparency and ingenuity of the administration.

    The above said, and along those lines, I do agree with @Bryan in that we really do need to have better transparency across departments. The citizens, particularly in a reassessment year, deserve a deeper understanding of the expenditures. But, likewise, I appreciate this administration for proposing a budget that at least shows a broader awareness of where the fixed demands are.

  7. Tysen Canevari

    Director of equity and inclusion officer for $187,000 a year? Please show me the job description. Harry will go down as the mayor to create the most wasteful positions ever. This council preaches clean and green. Put your money where your liberal ideology is.

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