Budget committee approves 2.75% mill rate increase

The Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET)’s Budget Committee has completed its work and the 2013-14 municipal budget is now in the hands of the full finance board.

At the Budget Committee’s “decision day” on Thursday, there was a unanimous vote in favor of a budget with a mill rate increase of 2.75% which is in line with last year’s increase. The committee now hands over the $380,233,372 budget of new spending to the full BET for a vote in March. This approval leaves the budget very close to the $382 million proposed earlier this month by First Selectman Peter Tesei and is likely the form that the final budget will take.

The budget, in addition to ongoing projects like the central fire station, the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA) project at Greenwich High School and The Nathaniel Witherell’s Project Renew, includes funding for the popular Byram Park master plan and swimming pool project. The town’s only municipal pool has fallen into disrepair and the town is set to team with the Junior League of Greenwich in a public/private partnership to build a new one. The project, despite enjoying strong support, was delayed last year but this year the Budget Committee voted three to one to push forward with $200,000 for architecture and engineering work that will be offset by money from the Junior League. The next year is expected to see work accomplished on narrowing down a design and for private fund-raising efforts to begin.

The Budget Committee also gave a stamp of approval toward accelerating the project to turn the former site of the Cos Cob Power Plant into a park with a playing field in it. The committee approved an addition of $2.3 million to push the project forward by expediting the development. Like the vote on the park, it was three to one in favor of it with BET member Leslie Tarkington casting the lone vote in opposition. She cited concerns that with so many capital projects ongoing she did not want to see the attention of the Department of Public Works and town Buildings Superintendent Alan Monelli spread too thin.

The committee also unanimously added in $3 million for the beginning of funding soil remediation at Greenwich High School.

There were cost offesets as well. The Budget Committee reduced the budget for the Fleet Department by five percent and when the full BET considers the matter later this month it could be reduced even further. It will be up to Mr. Tesei and the Fleet Department how the cut, which comes from money used for the purchase of new vehicles, will be applied.

Unlike the highly contentious Budget Committee meetings over the drafting of budget guidelines, which locked in a two to two tie and then locked in a six to six tie at the full BET with members split down party lines, the actual budget consideration featured little partisan rangling and ended up in a compromise between where the members split over the guidelines.

The budget will be voted upon by the full BET on March 21 and a public hearing will be held on March 19. Changes could still be made at that time, but with almost every BET member present and able to make their voices heard during the committee’s deliberation process it’s not likely there will be any major adjustments. The Representative Town Meeting will consider the budget in May and has the power to cut items as well.

Additional coverage of the town budget will appear in the March 7 edition of the Post.


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