Pellegrino won’t seek re-election

BET Budget Committee Chairman Joseph Pellegrino, at right, will not seek another term this fall.

BET Budget Committee Chairman Joseph Pellegrino, at right, will not seek another term this fall.

UPDATED THURSDAY 3:15 PM — The Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) is poised to lose a key member as Joseph Pellegrino, chairman of the board’s Budget Committee, will not seek re-election in the fall.

Mr. Pellegrino said he will “absolutely” serve out the remainder of his term and will remain in charge of the key committee as it develops budget guidelines this fall. But he will not be on the ballot for November’s election, meaning the four-person committee that essentially shapes the municipal budget after it is presented by the first selectman will have new leadership when deliberations begin in February.

This decision makes the race for the BET even more closely watched. Already, Democratic member Bob Brady had announced his intention not to seek a second term on the finance board and two Democrats, John Blankley and Frank Farricker, are first-time candidates. But with only one open spot and the rest of the Democratic caucus running for re-election for both Mr. Blankley and Mr. Farricker, who is also chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee, to be on the board, one of the incumbents will be have to be knocked off.

BET Republicans could also face an overcrowding as multiple candidates have reportedly expressed interest in running to succeed both Mr. Pellegrino and Gregory Bedrosian, who has told the party he will not seek a second term. All other Republicans on the board including Chairman Michael Mason are expected to run again.

Mr. Pellegrino’s decision was first reported this week by Post columnist Ed Dadakis, a former chairman of the Greenwich Republican Town Committee. Mr. Dadakis’ column may be viewed on page 5A in this week’s edition of the Post. Both town Republicans and Democrats are scheduled to hold nominating caucuses in July. At that point endorsements will be made for six BET members each and, if they so choose, candidates who do not receive the party’s endorsement may still run for the board in a party primary which would be held in August. Residents can also run independent campaigns by getting signatures on a petition, (Editor’s note: This text was corrected from a previous version.)

In the last municipal election, Greenwich Republicans did have a competitive race for the Board of Education with four candidates going for two seats. Those boards have traditionally, though, had the members chosen by the political parties without primaries.

Mr. Pellegrino has been on the BET for four years and has been chairman of the Budget Committee for two. In an interview with the Post on Tuesday, he said that he made his decision due to a new business opportunity. Mr. Pellegrino owns a firm that provides investment advice to individuals and families and said that this new opportunity would demand more of his time and would conflict. He said that he had wrestled with the decision since the beginning of the year and this new opportunity was what pushed him to choose not to run.

Development of the recently passed 2013-14 municipal budget appeared to be a difficult one from the public view. BET Republicans and Democrats on the Budget Committee split evenly on budget guidelines and the BET found itself having to once again vote on the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA) project at Greenwich High School, leading to another partisan split on the board and a long and controversial meeting. BET Republicans and Democrats debated on several occasions about spending, with Mr. Pellegrino and his Republican colleagues seeking a spending cap and Democrats looking for a more consistent budget in line with past services offered.

Mr. Pellegrino acknowledged that this year was more of a challenge but did not blame it on disagreements within the board, but rather the challenges of the town’s financial picture. He said that the town’s obligations for health care costs and retirement benefits will continue to be huge parts of the budget and drive decisions going forward as they did this year.

He said the public had made clear, particularly in this budget, that it wanted the consistent level of services offered. Mr. Pellegrino praised town operations and department heads for their work on this, saying they run a “tight ship” and said that progress had been made on the capital side as well. In addition to MISA, Mr. Pellegrino also pointed to The Nathaniel Witherell’s Project Renew, the new central fire station and progress in other areas like the Cos Cob Park and Byram Park, a project that will include a rebuilt municipal pool.

In his time leading the Budget Committee, Mr. Pellegrino said that he feels he’s helped open up the process of the budget discussion and helped himself and his colleagues learn more. He cited a visit they all made two years ago to all the town’s middle schools so they could see first-hand what needed to be done and the impact their decisions would have. He said he also feels that progress was made in his tenure to balance the town’s capital model to better reflect the planning for the town’s capital improvement projects (CIP) committee.

He said his goal as a member of the BET was to “make sure we were spending the town’s money as efficiently as possible.” Mr. Pellegrino said that in the two years he had been in charge of the Budget Committee, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) had not voted to remove a single dollar from the budget the BET approved.

“I don’t know if that’s a mark of success, but I take it as one,” Mr. Pellegrino said. “I think we’ve shown that we’re responsive to the people because we are funding the services they have told us are important, but we’re not overfunding them. I think if we were doing that the RTM would have cut dollars from the budget. We’ve been able to put forward budgets with consistent and moderate mill rate increases and I think people appreciate that.”

And because of that, Mr. Pellegrino said he will look back fondly on his time on the BET even as he laughs off questions from the Post about what, if any, future in town politics he might have.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” Mr. Pellegrino said. “It’s been an honor to serve. It’s been a very positive experience for me in a small way I hope I’ve made a contribution to the town.”

 

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