Norwalk City Council debates whether to adopt one-year or two-year budget

By Alex Dominguez

NORWALK – Despite a lengthy presentation by staff and deep discussion, Norwalk City Council still seems at odds over how to proceed with its future budget plan.

City staff presented the council with several options and a potential budget plan during a special meeting on Tuesday, as each member deliberated on whether to keep the currently existing budget format or make a change. 

Norwalk currently follows a classic two-year budget cycle, in which anticipated revenues and detailed appropriations for two years is approved and adopted at the same time. 
Norwalk adopted this format for the 2015-17 budget cycle. 

However, City Council is now considering a change in approach by adopting either a “rolling” two-year budget cycle or by switching back to an annual budget period. 

A rolling budget cycle is similar to the classic format in that anticipated revenues and the appropriations of those resources for two years are examined, however the spending plan is approved individually. 

The first year’s budget would be formally adopted, while the second year’s budget would be tentatively approved. 

The budget overview presented to the Council included a two-year spending plan, which projected $130.48 million for fiscal year 2017-18 and $97.92 million for fiscal year 2018-19. This included several increases in personnel cost and operating costs, one-time expenditures, and capital projects. 

The overview also gave a total of $95,736,288 and $97,915,547 in total new appropriations in year one and two, respectively.

Salaries and benefits take up 42% of expenditures, followed by the Sherriff’s contract at 22% and contract services at 11%.

Public safety takes up 33% of operations, followed by public service at 21%.

Interestingly, the council’s two most seasoned members – Mayor Luigi Vernola and Vice-Mayor Leonard Shryock – seemed to prefer an annual budget over the two-year plan, with Vernola wary of potential state mandates that could affect the second year plan. 

Shryock also seemed to suggest that he cannot truly pay attention to year two numbers, based on their reliance on projections and estimates. 

The council’s three newest members seemed to be a little more open to all possibilities. 
Councilmember Jennifer Perez even took a moment to ask for the input of each department director, many of which stated the benefits of a two-year plan. 

Things only became more complicated, however, as council almost began to pick apart the plan without a clear direction, sorting through a list of department requests that had not been included.

In what appeared like a last ditch effort, Shryock made a motion to move to a one year budget cycle, however was unable to garner a second. 

Seemingly frustrated and potentially fatigued from the three and a half hour meeting, Shryock withdrew his motion to allow his fellow council members to receive more information, yet maintaining his stance and intention to vote for a single year budget. 

Unwilling to make a decision at that time, the council agreed to convene within the next several weeks to discuss their options further. They have until June 30 to adopt a budget plan.