By Christian Brown
NORWALK – Unable to come to a consensus on a number of big budget items, the Norwalk City Council voted on Tuesday to extend its talks into July and past the June 30 benchmark when cities typically approve their budgets.
Without a 2017-18 fiscal budget in place, the City Council agreed to call a special meeting on July 3 to pass a short-term continuing resolution that will keep funding going for basic city services until a new spending plan is adopted.
Vice Mayor Leonard Shryock proposed the idea, maintaining the council needs more time to discuss the budget, especially with the solid waste contract and labor negotiations in progress.
“I don’t think we can move forward unless we have a more complete picture of what our expenditures will be,” Shryock said. “I don’t want to assume what’s going to be in those final numbers.”
Mayor Luigi Vernola and Councilman Tony Ayala agreed, advocating the council wait until it has a better pulse on how much future contracts will cost.
"It’s moot to go through this if the money’s not there,” Ayala said. “It’d be tough to figure out what we can buy.”
However, Council members Jennifer Perez and Margarita Rios strongly objected, citing the adverse ramifications on the city’s financial standing if there’s no official budget by June 30.
“We need to see some progress on this tonight,” Rios said. “If the negotiations were a problem for Shryock, I would’ve liked that communicated before tonight.”
Rios also noted that the 2017-19 proposed budget by staff projects how much the city anticipates spending on the solid waste and labor contracts.
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“Staff has been more than accommodating and I agree with Jennifer that we’ve had plenty of time to review the information,” Rio said. “If we want to remain fiscally solvent, we need to address this.”
While it’s not illegal for Norwalk to miss the June 30 deadline, it is widely encouraged for cities to do so as auditors frown upon agencies that lack consistency in their budget process.
The split decision among the council comes after weeks of budget meetings where city staff went through the proposed 2017-19, two-year budget line by line.
During the process, city staff maintained a list of eight items worth $270,000 that council members either wanted added or subtracted from the proposed budget.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, council members also submitted a list of 15 other items worth $1.3 million that they wanted to further discuss as additions or subtractions.
The lists include items like new ceiling tiles for the Norwalk Arts & Sports Complex, public affairs consulting fees, construction projects on Hoxie Avenue, renovation funds for park facilities, new city banners, and a new Social Services worker position.
A bulk of those items (10) were proposed by Shryock, who has argued for deeper spending cuts for the next fiscal year.
The budget overview presented to the Council in May 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%.