Budget battles still loom, so watch your wallet

Greenwich-Voices-DadakisThe Board of Estimate (BET) has locked Greenwich’s budget for fiscal 2014 and, pending input from the RTM (which can only reduce spending), expect a 2.75% mill rate increase.

Overall there will be a spending increase of six percent but operating costs are only up two, which provides lots of money for capital. This is a good result for BET Republicans and First Selectman Peter Tesei.

Despite the histrionics of BET Democrats demanding three different versions of the budget and pushing for rate increases up to 3.5%, Tesei and BET Republicans compromised a little, reaching consensus. Tesei proposed a 2.96% mill rate increase whereas BET Republicans wanted 2.5%. Their compromise isn’t a lot of dollars in a $427 million budget but shows they share the same goals.

Additional funds for the ill-fated MISA project were deleted awaiting Board of Education input whether to curtail the enormity of the plan which has exploded in cost. Now at $40 million and climbing, cost overruns exceed even the worst fears of MISA’s most ardent critics. It’s a good sign the BOE is pausing because it’s time for a long, deep breath.

While MISA has wonderful, well-meaning supporters, its problems are accelerating. Hopefully BOE members will seriously consider renovating the existing auditorium instead. A perfectly acceptable and workable facility can be built without these enormous problems and costs. But it will take leadership. Do they have it in their ranks?

As the budget debate wound down, Democrats fought for long-term financing of the Central Fire Station reconstruction. The Democrats’ goal is to replace the modified pay-as-you-go system with long-term bonding, enabling them to load Greenwich citizens with debt.

They argue, not incorrectly, that the useful life of capital projects spans decades so the cost should, too. But they ignore that the projects being replaced were paid for, without debt, by previous taxpayers so those very BET Democrats could enjoy lower taxes and low debt. The question they can’t answer was posed by Budget Committee Chairman Joe Pellegrino, who asked why we should pass on to our children a debt level that doesn’t make sense.

Pellegrino has a point. Democrats in Hartford have so indebted Connecticut that it teeters on the brink of bankruptcy. Under both parties, Washington ran up an astonishing debt and Democrats took it to perilous heights under Obama. Why do Democrats want to start down that path in Greenwich?

In the 1930s Greenwich almost went bankrupt. A Democrat came to the rescue. Anthony Mazza created the pay-as-you-go system allowing Greenwich to meet citizen needs while retiring crippling debt, a strategy which made Greenwich the envy of the nation. Those who lived through it said never again. Why do Democrats want to end this success?

While capital costs are increasing, more out of want than need, we should keep tight rein on them, not borrow tens of millions of dollars so every mega-project is built immediately. Low interest rates notwithstanding, long-term borrowing adds millions to project costs.

Long-term debt will be an ongoing battle on the BET. Hyper-partisan Democrats, including Frank Farricker and twice defeated candidate John Blankley, want seats and promise to politicize it by antagonistically pushing to spend with a credit card. Despite BET Republicans regularly outpolling Democrats 2 to 1 in elections, each party has the same number of seats (why doesn’t it work that way in Connecticut’s General Assembly?). The days of responsible bipartisan action by such leaders as Sam Stowell and Frank Mazza or Larry Simon and Steve Walko are likely gone.

Greenwich’s 2014 budget was thoughtfully developed but beware of battles yet to come and hold tight to your wallet.

 

Ed Dadakis is former chairman of the Republican Town Committee and has spent more than 30 years serving on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). He may be reached at [email protected]

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