State-of-town address Tesei says town has overcome challenges

In his State-of-town address, First Selectman Peter Tesei delivered a generally positive outlook for the town.

In his State-of-town address, First Selectman Peter Tesei delivered a generally positive outlook for the town.                                                                                                                                                  — John Ferris Robben photo

 

 

First Selectman Peter Tesei delivered a generally optimistic outlook for the town, even as he touched upon recent tragedies, during his annual state-of-the-town address Wednesday, Sept. 18.

The lunchtime event was held in a soldout room at the Milbrook Club and was sponsored by the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce.

At the outset of his speech, he spoke of two recent tragic events that have shaken the town. He extended the town’s condolences to the families of Bartlomiej “Bart” Palosz, 15, a Greenwich High School student who committed suicide Aug. 27,  and a local woman who was attacked and nearly beaten to death on Sept. 10 at her Round Hill Road home. Her husband, Michael De Maio, has been charged with attempted murder.

Mr. Tesei said the town has been able to overcome stormy weather, both natural and financial, during the last several years as the community banded together.

“Working together we have been able to meet those challenges and emerge stronger and better,” he said, citing storms that have seen thousands of residents lose power for days on end and a recession and slow recovery that has resulted in less revenue coming to the town.

While slower economic growth has affected the town, Mr. Tesei said the town has still invested heavily in its infrastructure.

He said the town has appropriated and invested approximately 420 million tax dollars since fiscal year 2005-2006 through the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2014.

Mr. Tesei said that about $188 million has been allocated to the Board of Education, about $183 million invested to the Department of Public Works department, with the balance going to other departments. He cited the police headquarters, the new central fire station as examples of that spending and other infrastructure work such as the replacement of the waste water sewer line in Cos Cob that has failed twice.

While the town has invested heavily in its infrastructure, he said the town has acted prudently by adhering to its debt ceiling and limiting borrowing to short terms only. The town is also working to ensure it not only retains businesses involved in the financial sector but also be a town that continues to attract them, Mr. Tesei told the packed gathering.

While the town has many attractive features including a low tax rate, advantageous geographical setting, strong neighborhood schools, outstanding services and an attractive housing stock, Mr. Tesei said the single biggest advantage is its people.

“Throughout all of this Greenwich’s major strength is our residents who give so freely of their time, talent and treasure,” he said. “We have demonstrated by working collaboratively with our residents we are able to undertake and overcome any challenge that confronts us. This is part of our tradition and legacy for which we are so proud.”

He pointed to a number of public-private partnerships, including the restoration of buildings at Greenwich Point being done by the Greenwich Point Conservancy as an example of that collaborative tradition.

He answered submitted written questions and those posed by audience members following his speech.

One question was about how to make Greenwich more business friendly after a recent decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission affecting physical fitness businesses.

Mr. Tesei said that the commission is independent, although he said the town, including himself, has made representations to the commission both for and against various applications over the years.

In response to another question about school safety, especially in light of Bart’s suicide after he was allegedly bullied, Mr. Tesei said the school system has worked and continues to work building a safe environment for students and staff.

“I think the community has responded quickly and strongly to reaffirm a zero tolerance to bullying,” he said. “Let’s be frank about this, this is everybody’s responsibility. I speak to all of you that it is your responsibility and it is my responsibility. It is not just the schools’ responsibility.”

He also urged his listeners to examine themselves to see if their actions have created environments that could lead to people feeling uncomfortable.

“We are taking a stand. The town’s policy is zero tolerance to bullying,” he said.

Mr. Tesei praised the Representative Town Meeting’s decision to shoot down a proposed lease policy for town-owned properties used by other community groups. The guidelines were developed by a special RTM subcommittee but the full body voted it down at its Sept. 16 meeting, obligating the RTM to adhere to the current lease policy, which requires a case-by-case method of approving leases and renewals for town-owned properties.

He also applauded the RTM’s granting the final approval needed to establish a harbor management commission at that same Sept. 16 meeting.

Marcia O’Kane. the chamber’s executive director, said interest is always high for the event as it gives residents and business people a chance to not only hear what the first selectman has to say but also to pose questions.

“It was sold out because everyone loves our town of Greenwich and they care very much about preserving the quality and integrity of the town,” she said. “Many people came to me today and said ‘Oh I would never miss this one.’ Because when do you get to hear the vision of your first selectman and ask questions? Many people aren’t going to get up and go to Town Hall. Here you have him answering any questions you want.”

In comments after the event was completed, Mr. Tesei said he wanted to take a more positive tone compared to last year’s speech where he warned the town was facing increased healthcare costs and other costs due to actions of the federal and state governments. He said that approach came after talking with senior town staff and his fellow Selectmen David Theis and Drew Marzullo.

“Their comments to me were don’t get caught up in a lot of the granular, try to be more thematic. I love talking about the details. That is what I spend my time reviewing and discussing. The intent today was to be a little bit more broad and focus on some of the fundamental characteristics that make it a great town and how that is going to put us in a good stead in the future,” he said.

One of the attendees, resident and lawyer Lori Romano, said it was her first time at the event and she’s optimistic about the town and Mr. Tesei’s leadership.

“I think we are in good shape and I think Peter (Tesei) has done a good job,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere, either for work or for residence,” she added with a laugh.

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