Things to come

FI-EditorialIt may seem like an exaggeration to say that as soon as the Representative Town Meeting cast its vote in favor of the 2013-14 municipal budget, work began on next year’s budget, but it’s actually an understatement.

Work is already under way for the 2014-15 budget, and there are big storm clouds ahead that can, and must, be avoided. And this is not just isolated to the RTM anymore, where once again Monday night’s vote highlighted “District 7 versus the world” as their several attempts to cut popular projects like the Byram Beach master plan and digital learning for the school district predictably went down to defeat.

It seems very much right now that the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) will be the focus of attention in the months to come.

But to first dispatch with the business of last Monday night, it was good to see such an overwhelming level of support for the budget that advances projects while still allowing Greenwich to keep a tax rate that is the envy of the surrounding area. And it would be oh so nice for the battle over the musical instructional space and auditorium (MISA) to finally be over. The last vote was a squeaker, but a win is a win for this badly needed project, and no one wants to fight this battle again.

It’s time to let MISA progress while focusing on the future, and there could be some doozies of fights coming. Democrats on the BET are no longer about to just sit back and play nice, nor should they. There is more than one economic philosophy in this town and it deserves to be heard. But this leaves BET Republicans wondering why it can’t be like it was in the old days when Democrats just did everything they said. Despite that sentiment, though, it’s good for the town to have differing views out there.

That doesn’t mean any idea that has a (D) next to it is the right thing to do. The merit of ideas and the impact of them means far more than any party identification ever could. But the Democrats have ideas about long-term bonding that deserve to be heard and it must be stressed that it was the BET Democrats who went to the mat for MISA and have for other key projects in this town, allowing them to move forward.

No one wants to see partisan fights paralyze the BET and that’s something that’s on both sides. The BET’s Republican leadership needs to recognize that Democrats acting like Democrats and not simply rubber-stamping the majority’s plans is not a partisan calamity simply because it wasn’t done that way before. And Democrats have to accept that Republican ideas have a lot of support among the voters.

Republicans have had power in this town for a long time and are going to keep it into the near future, but Democrats fighting to be heard and have real input in town is a good thing as long as there is honest debate about what is best for the town. Republicans have the clear majority and with that comes earned privileges in government, but that doesn’t mean never considering compromise.

These next months are going to be the best time for the BET to create a real dialogue among its members about next year’s budget and what it will look like. There are many issues to come, such as the makeup of the town’s Retirement Board as well as the vital return on investment to meet the obligations that make up such a large chunk of the budget. Plus there is the debate over long-term bonding and how to pay for capital projects while still allowing for ongoing maintenance. The BET and the Board of Education need to get on the same page in these next few months as well, and that will also require compromise.

These don’t have to be bloody battles. These are differing economic philosophies but numbers don’t lie or have partisan agendas. The 12 members of the BET are smart and financially savvy. If they don’t work together to get those numbers to the best interests of the town, then Greenwich is in for a dark road ahead to next year’s budget.

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