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Greenwich Dems pledge bipartisanship on finance board

January 9, 2018 GMT

GREENWICH — With pledges of bipartisan cooperation, the town’s Board of Estimate and Taxation began its new term — and new era — Monday night.

Democrats are now in charge of the finance board for the first time in recorded town history, but the new leadership said residents should not expect major changes in direction and policy.

“We want to insure we’re talking to residents, to Representative Town Meeting members, to elected officials, to department heads and that we’re working together to find the right solutions to meet the desired services needed as well as for infrastructure and excellent public schools while maintaining a reasonable tax rate for our residents,” said Jill Oberlander, who was elected as the BET’s new chair Monday by unanimous vote.

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In a sign of bi-partisan cooperation, the new Democratic officers picked to lead the board were nominated by BET Republicans Monday. Oberlander praised former Republican chair Michael Mason for his help and courtesy in working with her during the two years she has been on the BET. Mason is still on the board and will serve as Republican caucus head.

“It’s a continuation of how the BET has been managed,” Oberlander said of the cooperative spirit between parties. “I think it’s been managed in a bipartisan manner and with respect to our individual colleagues as well as to different positions. I fully anticipate that’s the manner by which we will continue.”

The proposed 2018-19 municipal budget is set to be presented on Jan. 29 by First Selectman Peter Tesei. The BET Budget Committee will then work through February to adjust or eliminate budget lines, place conditions upon the release of money or even increase budget allocations.

Democrat Leslie Moriarty was elected chair of the Budget Committee Monday, and noted the BET guidelines approved in the fall should lead to an approximately $427 million budget in fiscal year 2018-19, representing a $7 million increase over the current year.

“Certainly the forecast when we were putting together the guidelines is that this will be a very stable situation,” Moriarty said. “Departmental increases should be within reason and our fixed costs should be within reason. Therefore it should result in a mill rate that, even early in the budget cycle, is lower than the currently approved budget. We’re starting from an earlier place but there are always challenges every year.”

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Moriarty said there would likely be a focus on capital budget requests in February’s committee meetings with town department heads, including a look at the school district’s long-term financial plan.

The first selectman’s committee working to prioritize capital projects is still in progress and will hold a public hearing on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

“Looking at the budget from an overarching standpoint you want to make sure that we’re providing the services that our residents expect in a cost effective way,” Moriarty said. “We want to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens and we want to set this town up for a successful future. We do want to start and continue planning for what Greenwich needs to be in terms of its infrastructure and services in five to 10 years.”

The new Budget Committee will bring much experience to the budget process. Moriarty, who is a former eight-year member of the Board of Education including two years as chair, has been on the Budget Committee for a year. She will be joined by Democrat Jeff Ramer and Republican Leslie Tarkington, both veterans of the committee as well.

Additionally, Mason, who was chairman of the Budget Committee before taking over the full BET in 2012, will rejoin the four-person panel.

Oberlander is not only the first Democrat to be BET chair but is the first female chair since Republican Alice Melly served in the position from 1998 to 2001. On Monday she said the chairmanship is “an extreme honor and privilege” and one she would not take lightly.

While the budget presentation is still weeks away, Oberlander said an immediate focus will be to start to move forward with the business of the BET and get new members up to speed. A third of the 12-person BET is new, with Republicans Andy Duus, Karen Fassuliotis and Debra Hess and Democrat David Weisbrod all being sworn in on Monday.

“Even though they have a lot of town experience, the process is different and I want to make sure people are well acclimated and comfortable with what their assignments are,” Oberlander said. “We need to move the business forward.”

Ramer was unanimously voted as BET vice chairman and Democrat Beth Krumeich will serve as the BET’s clerk. Democrats took control after a surprise victory in November. The party that gets the most collective votes for its six-person slate of candidates gets the chairmanship, which controls committee assignments and has a tie-breaking vote for times when the board is deadlocked.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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