NORWALK, Conn. Sparks have been flying in public over the Norwalk School District's budget, and rumor has it things have been tense behind closed doors as well.
Democrats on the Common Council are again pushing the city to use the so-called "rainy day fund" to ease the massive teacher layoffs approved by the Board of Education last week, with a resolution urging the Board of Estimate and Taxation to provide the school board up to $1.8 million, with no stipulation of repayment. But indications are that the pressure is on Republicans to vote against the resolution at Tuesday's meeting and there is talk that one Republican council member is considering resigning over the issue.
Council Majority Leader Doug Hempstead (R-at large) said last week that a deficit in the school district's operating budget is not what the fund is made for, and one Norwalk mother, who has suddenly become an activist, has heard that Republicans are being urged not to back the resolution.
Barbara Smyth, who was inspired to organize rallies on the lawn of City Hall by what she saw as obvious politicking, says she has heard from a source close to City Hall that Mayor Richard Moccia and Art Scialabba, chairman of the Republican Town Committee, are pressuring Republican council members not to vote for the resolution. One Republican council member, who would like to cast a yes vote, is considering resigning, Smyth was told.
Moccia, Scialabba and the council member in question did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. Moccia and Scialabba don't support the resolution because Finance Director Thomas Hamilton does not recommend using the fund for that purpose, Smyth was told.
Fred Wilms, chairman of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, said he does not support using the fund to cover the school district's shortfall. "I believe a special appropriation is fiscally irresponsible," he said.
Hempstead said he doesn't see the shortfall as a crisis. The city's emergency fund is designed for things like an explosion that destroys a high school or a sudden drop in tax revenues because large businesses leave town, he said.
While the departure of Norden Systems probably "won't be a big hit" to tax revenue, he wonders would what happen if Diagio and some other companies left.
The resolution is giving people "false hope," he said, and is contrary to the process, as the council approves appropriations recommended by the BET, and does not recommend appropriations.
"I guess if you want to go on the record of asking for a million, I guess you could say the resolution is valid," he said. "But it has no enforcement value. We are the last step in the process. Our resolution, in the realm of having the ability to appropriate money, is zero."
Council President Carvin Hilliard (D-District B) disagreed. "If we vote it out on the council floor, believe me, the Board of Estimate is going to do it," he said. "They'll do it because the Board of Estimate is appointed by the mayor. We are elected."
Hilliard said he thought that Republican council members would not vote to authorize $1.8 million from the city's surplus, but $1 million would be doable. He urged his fellow Democrats to send the resolution for $1.8 million to the council to at least have a discussion.
"We can do a million easy out of the rainy day fund, maybe more, but a million safely," he said. "It would be hard for the Republicans. They might vote against it, but it would be harder for them to vote against a million dollars out of the rainy day fund on the floor, in front of everybody."
Tuesday's Common Council meeting is set to begin at 8 p.m. in the council chambers, according to the city's website.
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