A good start

FI-EditorialIt was a surprise that the Board of Estimate and Taxation’s Budget Committee did not get caught up in partisan wrangling while giving its approval to the town budget. But this surprise was a pleasant one indeed.

One would be forgiven for assuming the worst was coming after the Budget Committee split evenly over the proposed budget guidelines and that acrimony extended to the full board, resulting in a deadlocked six-six vote between Republicans and Democrats that had to be broken by Republican Chairman Michael Mason. Would that be the future for the BET? Would those who advocated too much restraint on spending butt heads with those who didn’t? Would the entire budget process become combative?

As it turned out, no. And it was no secret why. Republicans and Democrats compromised and came together. It’s not a perfect budget, but the discussions under committee Chairman Joseph Pellegrino were productive and open to determine the best interests for the town.

The committee ended up approving a 2.75% mill rate increase that puts the budget in line with last year’s increase. Could it have been more? Yes. But this is a compromise that continues financing for needed capital improvement projects like MISA, The Nathaniel Witherell and the Central Fire Station while also allowing long overdue projects like the municipal pool and Cos Cob park to advance after needless delays. Mr. Pellegrino and his colleagues Leslie Tarkington, William Finger and Jeffrey Ramer had truly bipartisan discussions and ended up moving away from the unnecessary austerity measures discussed last year and toward the commonsense measures advocated both by Republican First Selectman Peter Tesei and by BET Democrats, who stressed that town services are a vital part of what makes Greenwich the special place it is.

The Budget Committee acted in the town’s best interests and should be applauded.

That’s not to say that there aren’t issues still to be discussed. The board’s reluctance to consider long-term financing to pay for capital projects at a time when borrowing is cheaper than ever should be reconsidered. And the Budget Committee’s decision to remove funding for as many as 10 positions in the Police Department’s budget over the objection of Chief of Police James Heavey seems a mistake.

Finding savings and efficiencies in town departments is the right thing to do, but this cut goes too far. Greenwich justifiably prides itself on the performance of its highly trained and qualified police officers, and high-ranking officers have said these cuts would impact staffing for popular programs like the officers on Greenwich Avenue, the student resource officer and the Island Beach Ferry.

Mr. Tesei and his fellow selectmen have said public safety is a priority, and the public has given every indication it supports that approach. Greenwich should not try to run a police department (or a fire or emergency medical department) on the cheap. Greenwich is too big a town with too many potential issues to tie Chief Heavey’s hand behind his back, and the BET should not micromanage the police. The department has data to show the necessity of this staffing, and it would be a mistake to ignore it.

BET members Randall Huffman and Sean Goldrick have made commonsense proposals about reducing money in the reserve fund that earns no interest and just sits there and instead using it to invest in the services and infrastructure that makes Greenwich stand out. That idea deserves to be thoroughly discussed in the weeks to come.

This is a good budget, but it can be made better. This is not wild spending. It’s the kind of smart investment that will continue to pay off. The BET is almost there now but needs to move just a little bit further.

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