BET approves budget

UPDATED 8:45 P.M. — The Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) has given its blessing to the 2013-14 municipal budget but work is still left to be done.

The budget now goes to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) for consideration in May. But there is one major area that needs to be addressed. As part of the consideration of the budget Thursday night, the BET removed, temporarily, a request for $3.1 million for the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA) project at Greenwich High School. This was done after the Board of Education asked the BET to hold off consideration of the budget line until it could hold a special meeting April 10 to discuss the project.

Bids for the construction of MISA recently came in higher than expected and the Board of Education is reexamining the project to potentially send it forward with the higher price tag or removing parts of the design to lower the cost. The removal of the $3.1 million for MISA is not meant to be a judgment from the BET but rather, as BET Budget Chairman Joseph Pellegrino pointed out, a procedural move to allow the Board of Education to discuss its options first and then come back to the BET to allow for consideration. At that time either the $3.1 million or an adjusted number will be put back into the budget.

This reduction moves the budget down to $427 million, at least for now.

The BET placed conditions on money for several areas of the budget including $1 million for the Board of Education’s new digital learning program. When a condition is placed on money it means that it will only be released when the impacted department meets a requirement placed on it by the BET. In this case, the Board of Education will first have to present a report on digital learning. In a scheduling twist, the board considered that report the same night of the BET’s budget meeting on Thursday.

Conditions were also placed on money for Greenwich Emergency Medical Services and spending on a new emergency communications tower.

BET Democrats did make an attempt to have the full board use longer-term bonding but the motion failed along party lines by going into a six to six tie. BET Chairman Michael Mason spoke against the plan, saying that it was not the right time to change the town’s practice of financing through modified pay as you go.

Another motion, to reduce the salary of the town’s tax collector t0 $40,000 also failed on a six-six party line vote. BET member William Finger, a Democrat, stressed that this was not meant to be in any way a personal reflection on current Tax Collector Tod Laudonia, a Republican, but rather his belief it was foolish to pay that much to an elected tax collector rather than an appointed one who had qualifications judged by the BET. Mr. Mason said it was more of a charter change being asked for than something under the purview of the BET.  Mr. Pellegrino said that this was an “uncomfortable” conversation to have, especially since Mr. Laudonia was in the meeting as it was discussed, and that it made more sense to do this when there was not an incumbent running for reelection, as Mr. Laudonia is.

A working group to study this will now be formed on the BET.

Full coverage of the budget vote will appear in the March 28 meeting.


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