Budget decisions

FI-EditorialWhen it comes to voting on the town budget, there’s always going to be someone unhappy with the final result. Either too much will be cut or too little. The trick, as always, is to find that balance.

For the most part, this year’s municipal budget in all its $395,679,727 glory gets close to that sweet spot. As he has throughout his tenure, First Selectman Peter Tesei presented a responsible, carefully developed budget that balanced the need for life safety and town services with the desire of residents to keep taxes low. As the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) prepares to vote on the budget tonight, it will only take a few tweaks to get it just right.

Overall the budget is a strong one and it’s hoped the BET will push it forward without any additional cuts. Full funding for MISA and for the municipal pool’s development, the teen talk program and work on expanding New Lebanon School are all needed and should go forward without second thoughts. But there are areas where money should be restored.

The BET’s Budget Committee made a few cuts last month, most notably to the Fire Department’s request for $335,476 to allow for new hires and promotions. The department says this will adequately fund stations throughout the town, but a majority of BET members feel it’s not necessary. This is misguided thinking, though, and life safety should continue to be a priority,  as Mr. Tesei has made it.

Minutes count when you are responding to a fire. It can save property and, more importantly, it can save lives. How can the town even think of making it more difficult for the fire department to do its job? When it’s your house burning down you won’t care about how many additional pensions the town has to fund. This is a minor investment for our residents when all is taken into account that can pay huge dividends in keeping people safe. The first selectman, voted into office again by a huge margin last year for his work in town government, and the fire chief, entrusted to make these vital decisions, fully support this plan and the BET should fund it.

Far less controversial but just as necessary are two other cuts. The committee reduced money allocated for the Transportation Association of Greenwich (TAG) from $262,000 to $182,500. While that seems like a minor cut, to an organization like TAG it’s a huge issue. TAG is a service that we can easily take for granted but it is a vital service for our seniors and it does great work in town.

TAG’s Executive Director James Boutelle was blunt when he spoke to the BET on Tuesday night, and he needed to be. The board needs to understand that this cut will have consequences, and that with demand from seniors rising, TAG will have to reduce other services it provides. TAG has been a team player for years and it’s wrong to reduce its budget.

Another cut that it is hoped will be reconsidered is the elimination of $433,000 to help improve Greenwich Common. That cut is understandable on its face when there’s so much competing for limited tax dollars, but when you take into account that $250,000 of that will be covered through a generous gift from a resident, then the expense becomes a minor one that the town can easily afford to help improve a precious jewel.

Public/private partnerships are vital to the town’s continued improvements and, just as with the Junior League of Greenwich’s efforts to help build the new municipal pool, Greenwich should be encouraging them whenever possible and not putting up roadblocks.

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