Greenwich residents invited to weigh in $426M budget plan
GREENWICH — The Board of Estimate and Taxation will vote Monday on the proposed $426 million municipal budget for 2018-19. But first, residents will have a chance to have their say.
A public hearing has been set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall for residents to appear before the full BET and speak on items in the budget. Then, a meeting is set for 4 p.m. Monday at Town Hall for the BET to discuss and vote on the spending plan.
“Setting the budget is essentially a question of public values, and, as a result, the BET encourages residents to attend the public hearing,” BET Chairman Jill Oberlander said. “The BET will listen carefully to public comments in support of projects and levels of funding as well as areas where there are concerns.”
Once the BET approves the budget, it will be sent to the Representative Town Meeting, which will hold its final vote May 14.
Last month, the BET’s Budget Committee moved the proposal to the full board after making some revisions, including using $600,000 of the town’s reserves to hold the mill rate at the current level.
There are few new initiatives in the budget, but $30,000 is allocated for a study of the Dorothy Hamill Rink as a potential first step toward a new municipal ice rink as well as funds to continue support for the Think Greenwich marketing campaign.
The budget is the first under the BET’s new leadership structure since Democrats took control in last fall’s elections for the first time in recorded Greenwich history. BET member Michael Mason, a former chairman and now leader of the BET Republican caucus, said it was unclear how Monday’s vote would go and whether the Republicans would support the spending plan.
There are issues to discuss Monday, he said, including whether to postpone some capital projects a year, how the ongoing school master plan might have an impact on maintenance expenditures and the status of the town’s operating budget. Mason also stressed that Republicans remain opposed to changing the town’s financing model to allow for more long-term financing, which Democrats have pushed in the past.
Oberlander expressed confidence Tuesday in the budget. It benefits from “significant savings” in health care expenses for employees and retirees and improved performance from the town’s investments through its Retirement Board, she said. The improved performance means the town has a smaller obligation to meet for its post-retirement benefits for former employees.
“Overall, I think there is general agreement that the full BET has been presented with a responsible budget,” Oberlander said. “It meets residents’ expectations of services and investment in infrastructure with no increase in the mill rate.”
She agreed there were issues to discuss, including overarching topics such as total spending levels and the methodology of the budget’s development. At the line item level, Oberlander said she expected proposals to adjust department budgets and capital projects.
“The main challenge for the BET will be to find a balance between these two points of view, with the understanding that the budget is a working document and not a wish list,” Oberlander said. “We neither want to reduce funding arbitrarily as a means of enforcing savings nor do we want to authorize more projects than departments can reasonably expect to accomplish during the fiscal year.”
Mason said he was looking forward to Thursday’s public hearing.
“There’s always a few really good ideas that come out of it that are important to know,” he said. “I want to hear what the people have to say. I want to hear what the trend is in people’s thinking. I want to know what the people’s ideas are.’
Mason said he expected a lot of discussion about school spending as well as the operational budget. In recent years, there has been more of a focus, particularly by the RTM, about how the state’s fiscal challenges affect Greenwich.