NORWALK, Conn. — Mayor Harry Rilling is seeking to fund the Silvermine Elementary School driveway project entirely this year and add allocate $1.5 million to repair school bathrooms.
Rilling’s capital budget recommendation $25,000 greater than the one the Planning Commission came up with and $2.82 million more than recommended by Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz. The Board of Estimate and Taxation unanimously approved the recommendation Wednesday, sending it to the Common Council for an April 13 vote.
Historically, the Democratic-dominated Council approves Rilling’s recommendation with only minor changes. This time there’s a twist: the budget “could significantly change based on some of the anticipated support that we’re going to get from the American Rescue Plan,” Rilling said at Wednesday’s BET meeting.
While the new school construction project moves forward, with Ponus complete and Jefferson set to break ground, “I am focusing our investment on smaller scale items which greatly enhance student experience,” Rilling said, reading parts of his budget letter.
“While the Planning Commission recommended $1 million in funding for various bathroom renovations and $1 million for the Silvermine Elementary School driveway project, I recommended that each project received full funding of $1.5 million. I’m also recommending $500,000 to add air conditioning to more of our schools.”
Rilling also said design work is underway on a new Columbus Magnet School, renovations for the existing Columbus building on Chestnut Street and a new Norwalk High School and Cranbury Elementary.
Rilling rejiggered multiple areas of the recommended capital budget to fund priorities “of improving conditions within our schools, ensuring that we have a lasting and stable infrastructure, creating efficiencies to improve service delivery and protecting our natural resources and environment.”
Rilling seeks $700,000 to pave and line the parking lots at Calf Pasture Beach, twice what Dachowitz and the Planning Commission recommended.
“This will allow us to create designated resident-only parking areas for the first time, add more spaces, as well as create safer pedestrian walkways around the park,” he said.
Rilling eliminated stormwater management plan funding from his budget. His letter makes no comment.
He cut the $90,000 the Planning Commission put in for a transportation master plan, returning it to the “0” Dachowitz had recommended. He bumped funding for an entrepreneurship microgrant program back up to the $100,000 recommended by Dachowitz.
Dachowitz recommended no funding for Norwalk Public Library projects and the Planning Commission advised spending $38,000 on newspaper digitization. Rilling cut that but inserted $75,000 for an auditorium refresh at the Belden Avenue library. The budget includes $65,000 for South Norwalk branch library improvements.
Rilling cut school curriculum materials from the $363,500 recommended by the Planning Commission back to the $200,000 recommended by Dachowitz. He also returned instructional technology to zero.
The IT account “has a balance of $444,000 remaining,” Rilling wrote. “Additionally, last year, the City provided approximately $1 million to purchase Chromebooks across the district to ensure each student had a device. As needs arise we will address them, but access to technology should not be an issue this school year.”
Some excerpts from Rilling’s letter:
- “I am recommending $115,000 for tree planting, and $50,000 for open space, both which fully fund Department requests. I also recommend funding $600,000 for watercourse maintenance and Norwalk River flood control to help prepare us for the inevitable effects of climate change.”
- “I am recommending $50,000 for the Norwalk River Valley Trail. This funding will help with the ongoing design and planning of this wonderful resource.”
- “I am also recommending $750,000 to repair and replace the resident docks at Veteran’s Park, which are currently sinking into the harbor.”
- “I am recommending more than $2 million for sidewalks around the City, including $225,000 for safe routes to school. This also includes restoring funding for Rowayton sidewalk projects, which had previously been removed.”
- “This last year changed how we all worked and a greater focus on technology is needed. Now, more so than ever before, it is important our services are accessible outside of in-person hours from 9-5. Therefore, I am recommending nearly $800,000 for technology investments to improve operations and bring more services online for taxpayers. That includes digitizing records, such as field cards, to be made accessible online.”
- “While I have removed $80,000 for ADA compliance this year, it’s important to note that there is nearly $400,000 left in the ADA account, which is more than enough to address our needs this fiscal year.”
It’s a $31.41 million capital budget recommendation, of which $25.01 million would be funded by bonding. Rilling said he is “mindful that there is not a bottomless well from which to draw funds.”
“I want to be clear: an approved Capital Budget project does not mean we borrow the money all at once all at one time,” he wrote. “These projects are staggered, take time to complete, and do not appear on our debt service repayments immediately. We have a prudent plan in place that recognizes the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic while balancing the critical needs of our schools and infrastructure.”