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Greenwich’s municipal budget faces one last hurdle

March 29, 2019 GMT

GREENWICH — After nearly 10 hours of debating the proposed 2019-20 municipal budget, the Board of Estimate and Taxation approved the plan early Friday and sent it along for one last deliberation.

Under the $443.9 million operating budget and $51.7 million capital budget, Greenwich residents are looking at a mill rate increase of 2.98 percent. Advocates of a new fire station in northwest Greenwich and improvements to Greenwich High School’s Cardinal Stadium got the approvals they wanted in the budget proposal.

The BET voted at about 1:40 a.m. Friday to send the budget plan to the Representative Town Meeting, which will make the final vote in May before the fiscal year begins on July 1.


In the voting, the BET approved $100,000 to search for and complete due diligence on possible sites in northwest Greenwich for a new fire and Greenwich Emergency Medical Services station. The BET also approved $75,000 for an independent study of fire coverage and fire department response time throughout the town.

Some RTM members have questioned the need for the station and have debated whether the data on response times from the town and fire department is accurate. The study will be done by an outside consultant during the 2019-20 fiscal year.

At a BET budget workshop Wednesday, finance board Chair Jill Oberlander said she supported the idea of a study but did not want to see it be used to delay the fire station project. And on Tuesday night, an attempt to cut the $100,000 for the fire station property search was defeated by BET members concerned about just such a delay.

BET member William Drake, and others said they needed more information before spending additional money.

“We should not be jumping forward to look at properties until the analysis is done,” Drake said.

However, supporters of moving forward with the study argued that a new fire station is a matter of life and death.

“We have turned the corner where we have enough lives, enough value of property, enough density, enough calls there to justify now the development” of the fire station, BET member Jeff Ramer said.

“We have enough information to move forward now,” BET Budget Committee Chair Leslie Moriarty said. She said she does not want see “one project (pitted) against another.”

BET member Michael Mason recalled that the project has come up for a vote four times in his tenure on the BET and once when he was on the RTM. He said that the “dialogue has got to be changed” around the project, citing the rhetoric around what is expected to be a contentious debate at the RTM. Mason said the town should be united on the project going forward.


A lot focus was also put on planned work at Cardinal Stadium at Greenwich High School. While all members of the BET agreed that something had to be done about the bleachers, which are in poor condition and a potential safety hazard, getting the language right for the allocation took some time.

Ultimately the BET approved an increased allocation of $3.9 million for the bleachers project. Originally, $1.3 million had been approved, but that amount was increased with several requirements attached.

The Board of Education must first give the BET a report on how the space under the new bleachers could be used for team locker rooms, enhanced bathroom access and other site needs. The report must also look into possible public/private partnerships; the Greenwich Athletic Foundation has already pledged to contribute a total of 20 percent of the project’s cost.

“A purpose of this condition is to strongly urge the Board of Education to engage in productive conversations,” Oberlander said.

The project’s funding in stages also depends on obtaining any needed land use approvals from the town.

A $212,000 allocation was approved for a design study to look at a possible renovation and expansion of Julian Curtiss School. But a motion to expand that study to include similar looks at Old Greenwich and Riverside Schools was defeated.

The BET approved $250,000 to begin design work on a new municipal ice rink that would replace the Dorothy Hamill Rink in Byram.

The rink money can be spent after the BET reviews and accepts a project scope and feasibility study. That was funded in last year’s budget but is not yet complete. Moriarty said she expected the study to be done by the end of June.

The $300,000 approved for design work on a new Eastern Greenwich Civic Center also is subject to a condition. The project must obtain municipal improvement status from the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission before the money can be released to complete the plans.

As the budget was approved at nearly 2 a.m., Oberlander called her BET colleagues “the hardest-working board in town.”

“I give great thanks to my colleagues for their dedication and commitment on behalf of the public to find the right balance between services and taxes,” she said. “While this budget is not the perfect answer for all of us, it does meet the guideline expectations and I think we can be very proud of the conversation.”

The approval was not unanimous, though: 11 board members voted for the budget, but BET member Karen Fassuliotis voted against it. She said not enough was done to control spending in town, especially at a time of continued poor fiscal performance for the state.

The BET “could have done better by holding accountable the department heads to budget goal levels,” Fassuliotis said.

“This tax increase is not something we should be doing in a year where Connecticut residents are bracing for new taxes and unfunded mandates that are likely coming from Hartford,” she said. “We should be spending less, not more, as this budget does pure and simple.”

Tarkington also said that she was disappointed that more was not done to “contain the mill rate increase” given the pressures on local taxpayers due to state issues and changes in the federal tax structure. But Tarkington ultimately voted to approve the budget.

The RTM will vote on the budget May 13 at Central Middle School. The meeting will have an earlier start time of 7 p.m.