Norwalk council members on Tuesday unanimously passed a controversial proposal to tack about $81 on to residents' annual property tax bill to finance an overhaul of the city's aging sewer system. The vote was 5-0, with Mayor Luigi Vernola and Councilman Mike Mendez backpedaling on their earlier proposal to put the decision on a future ballot.
About a dozen property owners spoke at a public hearing Tuesday, most opposed to the sewer fee that will enable Norwalk to restore its clay-pipe sewer system and come into compliance with state standards.
"I'm tired of getting my pockets picked," protested Steve Da Metz, who said he owns 10 apartment buildings in Norwalk. "I can't afford to give any more."
Resident Jerry Ori chided the city for including salary raises for city administrators in its 2013-14 proposed budget, but city manager Mike Egan said the city cut an administration position which will result in a net savings to the city.
Norwalk resident Kim Apodaca was one of the few people who publicly spoke in favor of the fee. "I'm not in favor of putting this to a public vote," she said. "I think it will be a waste of money."
The Norwalk Chamber of Commerce also came out in favor of the fee.
Responding to suggestions that the city slash its spending in other areas - particularly arts and recreation - Councilwoman Cheri Kelley said those programs are what have enhanced Norwalk over the last 15 years.
"When I was elected in 1997, we hadn't trimmed our trees in eight years, we hadn't paved our streets in eight years. Graffiti was everywhere," Kelley said. "Norwalk wasn't a pleasant place to be compared to what it is today."
"Cutting services? Not on my watch. Public services? Not on my watch," the mayor said.