The Norwalk Common Council voted to cap this year’s budget at $414 million, with $391.8 million coming from local tax revenues and more than $22.3 million comes from grants and other revenues, before sending the proposal to the Board of Estimate and Taxation for review.
Council Member Greg Burnett, who chairs the council’s Finance and Claims Committee, said that this proposed budget would increase the operating budget overall by $16 million and “keep tax rates as low as possible by enhancing services and maintaining services.”
“We are faced with several budget challenges and priorities as well as the current economic crisis,” he said.
The proposed budget calls for a 4.75% increase for the school district—more than the mayor’s initial recommendation, but not the full request the Board of Education had asked for. Board member Nora Niedzielski-Eichner had proposed increasing their budget by additional $1.9 million to provide funding for 21 social workers who are currently being funded through federal grants.
“Those are positions that are crucial to our schools and students,” she said.
Council members raised concerns about increasing the district’s budget anymore and the impact it could have on city taxpayers and residents.
“We are coming out of a pandemic—we know that our kids are struggling, but we have to think about people who are struggling and living on a fixed income,” Council Member Barbara Smyth said.
She said that an additional $10, $20, $30 might not seem like a lot to some people, but for “for families who are really struggling,” it could mean a choice between buying formula or food and paying their taxes.
Board of Education members and Superintendent Alexandra Estrella have said that the “flat funding” the district received last year from the Board of Estimate in Taxation made their ask this year greater. Some council members have highlighted that the district is still getting more than $9 million in additional funding this year, even if it wasn’t as much as they asked for.
Dozens of parents called on the Common Council to increase funding for the schools and asked them to draw down more from the rainy day fund because “it’s pouring.”
“4.5% is a welcome change but it is not enough,” said parent Justin Matley. “It does not account for the social and emotional learning losses from COVID, it does not account for the federal dollars on the brink of disappearing.”
Still, the Common Council did propose adding a slight increase of $60,000 to the city’s side to hire an additional employee for the parks and recreation department. The amendment was approved with a 9-6 vote.
Some council members said that voting to increase the parks and recreation budget after saying they couldn’t increase the schools was an “about face.”
“Many of the cited reasons were about higher taxes,” Council Member Joshua Goldstein said. “The rationale needs to be consistent.”
The budget now goes on the Board of Estimate and Taxation, which will hold a public hearing on their adjusted budget on March 23.