BET Democrats focus on budget issues

FI-EditorialTo the Editor

Editor’s Note: The following letter was submitted by members of the Democratic caucus of the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

As the Representative Town Meeting moves toward a vote on the fiscal 2015 budget passed by the Board of Estimate and Taxation, we respectfully recommend consideration of the following observations:

• Education: The Board of Education proposed a responsible 2.1% budget increase. We continue to closely monitor BOE spending in the face of multiple unfunded mandates and state directives aimed at improving the quality of education for all students. We view the state of public education as one of the key drivers in maintaining property values in this community.

• Land Use: During the budget process, we suggested and continue to support a new analysis of our land use departments. We must continue to integrate new technologies into the land use functions that increase efficiencies, reduce silos around these departments and improve the customer experience. We view the functioning of these departments, in conjunction with the impact of local zoning regulations, as key drivers in protecting our grand list.

• Conservation: We supported the increase of a current part-time position in Conservation to a full-time position, as was proposed in the first selectman’s budget but not passed by the full BET. However, the BET approved new positions in the building department and PZBA, which are inconsistent with the denial of the Conservation request. These departments all share the same application workflow, and the role of Conservation in hurricane damage grants and other critical watershed and coastal resiliency issues has increased dramatically.

• Fire Department: While our caucus split on the addition of nine new firefighters, together we support efforts to address the gap in fire service in the Northwest section of Greenwich, full utilization of the annual $697,000 volunteer appropriation and the volunteers who are qualified to fight fires and a complete long-term staffing, capital and strategic plan for the entire department.

• Infrastructure: While this year’s budget shows a commitment to infrastructure, it does not go far enough. For example, we supported additional funding for road paving, which is funded at less than 60% of DPW’s internal capacity to pave. Additionally, we support the dredging and revitalization projects in process at Binney Park and Byram Park and solutions for our struggling storm and sanitary sewer facilities.

• Fixed Charges and Debt Service: Fixed charges represent the fastest growing segment of the budget, and we lack a cohesive plan in this area. While we are bending the curve on health care with bipartisan recommendations, our defined benefit pension cost increased by 14.5% in this budget. We continue to advocate for a mix of maturities in our debt portfolio, matching the financing of long-term capital assets with their useful lives, and reducing the steep increases and volatility in the annual debt service line item.

 

William Finger, Jeffrey Ramer, Randall Huffman, Mary Lee Kiernan, and John Blankley
Greenwich

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