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Norwalk Mayor Worries About Traffic Rise in 2012

NORWALK, Conn. ? Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia has one prediction for the New Year: He'll still be mayor.

Other than that, he's hoping for a "cooperative Common Council" and expects "movement on the projects" and "difficult times with the budgets, balancing the needs versus the taxpayers" ? plus maybe a few more police officers, if he and Chief Harry Rilling can squeeze them out of the budget.

But realization of the hoped-for development leads him to what he considers an upcoming challenge: cars on the roads.

"I'm concerned, as other people are, about the amount of traffic in Norwalk, the speeding," he said.

More housing, and maybe a big anchor retail tenant "like a Bloomingdale's, a Target, a store ? I'm not saying they're coming in" ?would be both a good outcome and a bad outcome, he said: more people on Norwalk's roads and more people on I-95 in town.

"How do we handle the flow of traffic?" he asked. "We built all these new roads down there and supposedly they're going to handle it. ... But if things do turn around, especially in the second year [of his current mayoral term], things are better and people are spending more and there are more jobs, I don't see the state doing anything about 95, and everybody's going to come into our areas. If they want to do shopping, they're going to be taking 95 here."

The city's budget is also going to be a challenge. "I think maintaining our services without taxing people too heavily we're going to be needing more state aid," he said. "That's a challenge, with what's happening education-wise, and in other areas of the city, if the state aid is going to be flat."

He's not expecting much. "The governor has pretty well said that for the next year there's going to be no increase in ECS funding, and it doesn't appear there's going to be much increase in funding at all," he said.

Another challenge? Giving the jobs in Norwalk to Norwalkers. The construction of the new fire department headquarters and of Waypointe and hopefully other developments offers opportunities he hopes to take advantage of. "I want to talk to the successful bidders and say, 'Look, we're hoping that you're going to hire local people,' " he said. "We don't want to see people coming in from Texas or Massachusetts to work. We've got a lot of qualified people here that need the jobs, and that is going to be the challenge, to see how many of the construction jobs that do come in from all of the projects get local people."

He admits that the jobs may go to union workers, but he'd at least like to see most of them go to people in the area, if not Norwalk then to neighboring towns, he said.

He is hoping that FactSet will go through with an expected expansion and that the WWE production studio expected here will bring jobs, hopefully to Norwalkers.

The coming year will bring a new police chief, as Rilling is retiring. Moccia said he is thinking the city may go back to having two deputy chiefs, as the new chief will need help. He also thinks that Special Services and the Community Policing Department might be a little overworked, so more feet on the street might be in order.

"We are going to see if the budget will allow it, if we can handle the increase, because when you add even three or four, it's quite a bit of money," he said. "But there might be some savings in some other areas we can look at."

What else does he predict for 2012?

"On a national level, I'm not quite as optimistic as some of the forecasters about this recession being over," he said. "I don't think we're heading into another one or a worse one, but I think the real unemployment rate is still pretty high. It's dropped a little bit because, I think, because of the seasonal workers, but I still don't see the real estate market, the consumer market and I don't see the banks loosening up as far as investing. I think it's going to be another tough year."

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