Budget committee set to vote today

FI-greenwich-town-sealThe first key vote of the budget season is set for today, Feb. 27, as the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET)’s Budget Committee will make its voice heard on the town’s proposed $397 million 2014-15 budget.

The committee will begin its decision day meeting at 9 a.m. in the Town Hall Meeting Room after weeks of review. The four-person committee met with department heads throughout town government and has the power to make reductions, additions or place conditions on money in the budget proposed by First Selectman Peter Tesei. The committee is expected to pass the budget onto the full BET for consideration but what changes it will make are unclear.

As part of the review of the budget, capital expenditures were discussed last week and one of the issues that came up was spending for a new emergency radio system for the police department. And the committee was told that the town does save a little money due to the “cachet” of the police department.

Greenwich Police Captain Mark Kordick told the budget committee Feb. 19 that the town rarely has to pay to install its telecommunication equipment on a tower owned by the cellular companies.

“There’s a certain, I don’t know, cachet associated with having public safety equipment [on the towers],” Capt. Kordick told the committee. “They like us being co-located.”

He was speaking during the pitch by the town and the police department for a new $9.4 million radio system for the town’s first responders. Capt. Kordick said Verizon was particularly interested in the police department locating on its new tower near Exit 2 in Byram.

“Verizon was calling us every day practically,” he said. “They were pestering us to get down there and go on there. They can’t wait for us to be their neighbor.”

Capt. Kordick said the department has no plans currently to locate their equipment on the tower.

Town administrator John Crary said the town is mulling over whether the town would get a better bang for its buck by going with a single vendor for the anticipated $9.4 million contract for its radio system.

“Essentially what we are doing is replacing our entire radio system,” Mr. Crary said.

The current system is used by first responders, Public Works, Parks and Recreation and the Health Department with an additional 200 radios for the education system as it joins in with the town.

“We are going to have quite a system when this is done,” Mr. Crary said.

He said the town is looking at splitting the $9.4 million between the upcoming fiscal year and the 2015-16 fiscal year with $4 million allocated for the upcoming year with the $5.4 million balance in the following year.

The Parks and Recreation Department requested an initial $433,000 to begin work on Greenwich Commons. The money would be used for new walkways, trees, lampposts and tables. The committee is also set to hear about spending  $200,000 for the second stage of the master plan for the proposed $7.5 million project to renovate the town’s municipal pool in Byram. The current pool has limited capacity and is in poor shape.

The fire department also pushed forward its plan to hire nine full-time firefighters and start work on a new firehouse in northwest section of the backcountry. However the BET has expressed great reluctance to approve that plan despite Mr. Tesei’s support of it.

The ongoing MISA project was also discussed at last week’s capital review as Joe Ross, the building committee chairman, briefed the budget committee. The $44-million project is moving forward despite weather caused delays but spending on remediating the soil at Greenwich High School, which had been contaminated for decades before the MISA construction led to its discovery, is also part of this year’s budget.

Environmental costs have risen to about $1.3 million, a huge jump in the project’s environmental contingency funds of $500,000. Mr. Ross was blunt with the committee in telling them he had little good news to tell them about the extra costs that could see the project asking for more money.

BET chairman Marc Johnson was blunt in his views as well.

“You’re asking for more money, this is my opinion, more money, more money, more money. We had this discussion last year with the Board of Ed,” he said. “Where do we stop putting money into this whole project or where do we tell the Board of Ed, ‘Hey take it out of your own capital.’ “

He said alternatives may have to be considered.

“There is so much money going into this thing and where do we cut our losses if that is the right term or not,” Mr. Johnson said.

Leslie Tarkington, the BET’s representative on the MISA building committee, said the committee is acting appropriately by telling the town where it is at with the project and the possible new demands for money.

“They are coming in as an abundance of caution,” she said. “This is a prudent thing to do to tell the town where we are.”

Jeffrey Ramer supported Ms. Tarkington’s view and said the town knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road to complete the project.

“We always knew that this was never going to be fun,” Jeffrey Ramer said. “It would take a lot from me to get to a point of where I wanted to start to cut and run and begin to throw dollars away to redesign things to end up with less than what we planned to begin with.”

It would take a compelling engineering reason in order for him to change his mind, Mr. Ramer said.

“I don’t want to put my tail between my legs and go run away,” he said. “I think overall we are not doing too badly with it.”

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