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Dozens Join Rilling in at the "Mayor's Night Out"

Topics addressed at Rilling's second monthly community forum included defibrillators in schools, business revitalization in South Norwalk, property revaluations and opening the library on Sundays.

Erin Herring, Assistant City Clerk; Mike Mike Mocciae, Director of Recreation and Parks;  Mike Greene, Director of Planning & Zoning at the second "Mayor's Night Out" Jan. 8, 2014 at East Norwalk Library branch. Credit: Leslie Yager
Erin Herring, Assistant City Clerk; Mike Mike Mocciae, Director of Recreation and Parks; Mike Greene, Director of Planning & Zoning at the second "Mayor's Night Out" Jan. 8, 2014 at East Norwalk Library branch. Credit: Leslie Yager
Mayor Rilling hosted a crowd of abut fifty Wednesday night in the basement of the East Norwalk Branch Library his "Mayor's Night out," which was a chance for members of the community to speak their minds.

Once the Mayor's department heads introduced themselves, members of the community launched into questions. 

18-Wheeler Trucks Traveling from East Avenue to Van Zant
The first question was about trucks coming down East Avenue to Van Zant once plans to modify the railroad trestle are complete.

Harold Alvord from DPW addressed the concern, describing the two-lane underpass as, "a weird conglomeration of lanes on East Avenue that just doesn't work at all. So the plan is to widen it and add sidewalks and pedestrian bridges to make it safer for people. It's going to improve the flow of traffic."

Alvord added that the plan is for 18-wheelers to go down East Avenue rather than travel down Fort Point as they do currently, and instead to make a right on Van Zant. Alvord cautioned that that work is not scheduled until 2017.

Revitalization of South Norwalk, Parking and Visitor Friendliness
"We have formed a SoNo task force to look at issues facing SoNo," Rilling said when a member of the community addressed businesses closing and the concern that parking is creating an inconvenience for visitors to restaurants and stores.

 "The task force is going to look at how we can improve the area and make it visitor friendly...in speaking with the business owners, they've lost 33% of their businesses across the board. One of the biggest issues they're going to look at is parking," Rilling said.

Asked whether the city was looking into the mix of businesses in SoNo, including affordable restaurants and more retail stores, the mayor said that the job leading the city's economic development department is open due to a retirement, but that the new hire will be tasked with marketing Norwalk more effectively to attract people and businesses.  

"I don't know how much more of a mix we can expect down there," Rilling said when someone suggested SoNo restaurants skew toward the expensive. "The main thing is  to get the proper development going and get people to invest in the area and get more varied businesses that will attract more people."

Libraries Shuttered on Sundays, Dire Parking Shortage
Diane Lauricella expressed concern that the libraries in Norwalk are closed in Sundays, and asked whether at least one of the two libraries could open on Sundays in the winter.

Chris Bradley, from the library agreed opening on Sundays would be desirable. "That would help students, families and seniors. We'll go through the budget process. Under the union contract we have to pay union overtime out of the overtime budget, which is pretty small and is mostly used for snow emergencies and so on." 

City Finance Director Hamilton said Sunday library staff used to be paid at double-time and now workers are paid at time-and-a-half. 

"So the city was concerned enough in the last round of labor negotiations to try to make it more financially feasible. The Sunday service was eliminated in 2008-2009 when the financial crisis hit... We just haven't found the money to add it back to next year's budget," Hamilton said. "Probably the only way to do it this year would be with a special appropriation."

A member of the community suggested seeking private corporations to sponsor Sundays at the library, using Stamford's Ferguson Library as an example, adding that a flag or a sign is often all a corporate sponsor might seek in return for sponsorship, to which Rilling and Chris Bradley from the library both replied, "That's a great idea."

There was also discussion about the shortage of parking at the main library and the frustration of seeing the  parking lot for the adjacent building with multiple empty spots. 

"The library board is really going to take that up...we're going to see if some accommodation can be made," Bradley said.

Property Revaluations
"Hopefully everyone got their revaluation notices back in December," said Hamilton, adding that the goal is for everyone to have a value set at 70% of the true fair market value of their property.

"If you feel that the number the city has provided you does not represent the fair market value then there is an opportunity to appeal it. The informal appeal process has been underway since December and wraps up this month," Hamilton said, adding that the revaluation company is in Norwalk to the end of January for informal appeals.

"If you have a reason why they have some inaccurate information...or an error in how they came up with your assessment, then you should talk to them," Hamilton said.

After the informal appeal process ends, the tax assessor's office will finalize the grand list and send new notices in the beginning of March, according to Hamilton. At that point, homeowners will have until March 20th for formal appeals.

Rilling asked Hamilton to clarify the tax implications of a lower assessment in the revaluations. "If someone's assessment went down 7or 8% they might think their taxes would go down," Rilling said. "We don't want people to be surprised. And we don't want you to miss your opportunity to appeal."

"Because overall assessments did go down, that doesn't mean that your taxes will go down," Hamilton warned. "To raise the same amount of money, we need to increase the mill rate by 9% to offset the reduction in the grand list."

Police Substations
Other topics of discussion included the possibility of adding police substations, which the chief suggested might be expensive and result in little more than "a person behnd a desk."

District A Councilman David Watts, who broached the topic of substations, praised Chief Kulhawik, but  that his experience with substations was that they represent a place for the community to gather and present "an opportunity to break down the no-snitch rule."

Defibrillators in Norwalk Schools
Deputy Schools Superintendent Daddona addressed a concern that there aren't defibrillators in all the schools, saying that that they are not mandated, but are highly recommended.

Asst. City Clerk Erin Herrick, who said that her own son has a heart condition, addressed the lack of defibrillators. "We are looking into it right now. We are one of the only places in the state that does not have them in all the schools," she said to a chorus of gasps.

The department heads in attendance Wednesday included: Tony Daddona, Deputy Superintendent of Schools; Dennis McCarthy, Fire Chief and Emergency Managment Director; Erin Herring, Assistant City Clerk; Mike Mocciae, Director of Recreation and Parks; Mike Greene, Director of Planning & Zoning; Harold Alvord, Director of Public Works; Director of Health, Tim Callahan; John Kydes  of the Common Council; Tom Hamilton, City of Norwalk Finance Director; David Shockley, Norwalk Redevelopment Agency's Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator and Chair of Keep Norwalk Beautiful; Police Chief, Thomas Kulhawik; Karen Del Vecchio, I.T. Director; and Chris Bradley from Norwalk Library. Other officials in attendance included Eloisa Melendez and David Watts from District A, Stuart Wells, the Democratic Registrar of voters and Bruce Kimmell councilperson at large.

Follow Patch for coverage of future "Mayor's Night Out" meetings.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the last name of the Director of Recreation and Parks. 
David Park January 09, 2014 at 06:54 AM
FYI, Director of Rec & Parks, Mike Mocciae (correct spelling) and the "basement" of the library is the Van Zilen Community Hall. Thanks...
Leslie Yager (Editor) January 09, 2014 at 08:28 AM
Thank you David. I updated Mr Mocciae's name/spelling. Apologies too for referring to the Van Zilen Community Hall as the basement.

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