NORWALK — The City Council on Tuesday approved a $48-million budget that reflects its concern over a recent increase in gang activity by allocating money for an anti-gang program and by doubling recreational services.
The budget includes pay raises, ranging from 3.4% for about 190 general employees to 5.5% for about 20 management employees. It also contains $15 million for capital projects, such as widening portions of Civic Center and San Antonio drives.
There was only a slight increase in spending for general services, including police and fire protection.
Steering youths away from gangs is the council's top priority this year, Mayor Grace Napolitano said.
"A lot of the push is addressing the problems related to youth," she said. "We can now put in after-school programs to keep (youths) off the street."
The budget contains $297,000 for the anti-gang program. The money will pay for five full-time community workers and bring the Sheriff Department's anti-drug program into area schools.
There are eight known gangs with about 2,000 members in Norwalk, a city of about 90,000.
The council approved spending $57,000 to hire 14 part-time employees to restore after-school and summer recreational programs that were cut from 11 schools several years ago. The program will be at full speed in the next couple of weeks, said Ernie Garcia, deputy city manager for community services. Currently, the city has recreational programs at 11 parks, Garcia said.
The budget also contains $29,000 for a summer jobs program for 30 youths, some of whom have been hired.
The council members first approved the development of an anti-gang program last March. Their resolve was strengthened when high school football star Juan Enriquez, who was not a gang member, was killed in a drive-by shooting last May.
City Manager Richard R. Powers said the city's gang problem may not have grown as quickly if the recreation programs had been maintained.
"Why does Norwalk have what appears to be a preponderance of gang-related problems?" Powers asked. "We're really making an all-out thrust to address (the) at-risk youth population."
3,000 Requests Expected
The budget provides for the city's graffiti control program to be expanded at an annual cost of $158,400. The program includes six full-time and three part-time employees who are expected to respond to 3,600 requests to remove graffiti.
The council also approved spending $85,600 to hire a coordinator and three part-time park rangers to patrol city parks. The city has contracted with a private security service for park security.
The city's general fund budget, which provides salaries, police and fire protection, and other expenses, is nearly balanced with projected revenues of $16.46 million and expenditures of $16.65 million. The city is expected to finish the year with a general fund surplus of $10.7 million.
Last year, the city spent $16 million from its general fund against $15.75 million in revenue, according to financial records.
The slight spending imbalance for this year is attributed to raises given to many employees last April. A study commissioned by the city indicated the salaries of 60% of Norwalk's employees were below the median for comparable jobs in the area. The raises will cost the city $400,000 this year, said Sanford M. Groves, assistant city manager.
Powers said the additional expense is warranted.
Power Has New Contract
"If you have a work force that you want to be highly productive, then it is only fair that you have to pay more than just average wages," said Powers, who was given a new one-year contract and a $7,500 bonus this week.
City officials hope revenues will eventually increase to pay for the raises. The budget contains $75,000 to commission a study to unearth new sources of revenue. Some services, for example, may be unduly subsidized by the city, Powers said.
"We (may be) using general fund money for someone to apply for a zone change for a new apartment building, for example," Powers said. That would be "taking money away that can go for child care and public safety, and subsidizing the developer."
City officials hope the study will enable the city to increase revenues by $1.6 million a year, Groves said. The study should be completed in four to seven months, he said.
In a separate action Tuesday, the council voted to form a financing authority that is expected to sell $20 million to $25 million in bonds in the next year to fund construction of a community building at the Civic Center and an expansion of Norwalk Park.
The financing authority is a funding tool that will combine Redevelopment Agency, parking and other revenues to back the bond issue.
About $5 million has been tentatively earmarked for the community building, which is to be used for all types of community functions. The rest will be targeted for child-care facilities and an expansion of Norwalk Park. The bond issue, which must be approved by the City Council, is expected within the year.
"There is a lack of facilities for community meetings, for youth sports," Powers said. "The community is extremely deficient."
Napolitano commended Powers for leveling city income and spending. After Powers was hired by the council last summer, he immediately imposed a hiring freeze and made other spending cuts to virtually eliminate a projected $3.29 million deficit for the last fiscal year.