Greenwich needs to do more to help its parks

Greenwich-Voices-GoldrickThe town’s budget passed the BET last week, but there need to be some comments made about it as it goes to the RTM.

First, keep in mind that the town’s lowest-in-the-state property tax rate results in large part from the fact that just seven in 10 school-aged children attend the town’s public schools. That’s the lowest ratio by far of any affluent town in the state. So, while most suburban municipalities in the state spend approximately two-thirds of their budgets on their school systems, in Greenwich the figure is less than half.

I continue to be troubled by the inability to maintain our parks, especially Binney Park, which has been permitted to deteriorate into an eyesore and an embarrassment. It was dredged back in 1998, but no measures were implemented to slow siltation.

The pond is now bug-ridden, and islands of silt are expanding across its surface. The town’s Parks & Recreation Department proposes that a study of dredging be carried out three years from now, with dredging actually being done the following year. But I find that timetable far too slow.

I proposed that the town carry out a study of dredging concurrently with a study next year that will lead to siltation remediation. Though my motion to the rest of the BET was not adopted, that doesn’t change the fact that the town needs to speed up actions to return Binney to its former beauty.

It is also important that First Selectman Peter Tesei take action against corporate polluters that the town’s conservation commissioner identified as causing considerable upstream siltation that is clogging Binney Pond. I continue to urge him to do so. The failure to take decisive action to improve the park was one reason I voted against the final budget.

I continue to object to the amount of cash the town takes from taxpayers and sticks into idle cash accounts. This fiscal year, Greenwich will add an additional $17 million gross through unspent allocations, higher revenues and $3 million in insurance payments related to previous storms. It will use $8 million of that amount for operating costs.

So, by the end of June, the town of Greenwich will hold a conservatively estimated $43.6 million in cash. While the BET increased by $2 million to nearly $10 million the amount applied to the operating budget next year, cash balances will continue to rise. Greenwich will have exceeded its target range of 5% to 10% of the operating budget by the end of this fiscal year, and rise to more than 12%, or nearly $50 million, by the end of fiscal year 2015.

I supported eliminating phase I of a five-year $11-million plan to revamp the Holly Hill Recycling Facility. I question the need for much of that project, but a glaring omission is the lack of tipping fees on commercial haulers. Greenwich residents pay top dollar for trash collection, but the haulers pay no fee to the town. That fee would bring in 4-$5 million a year and there is simply no reason why Greenwich remains virtually the only municipality in the region without a tipping fee.

The BET cut funds to repair the decrepit Eastern Greenwich Civic Center. The elimination signals that it’s time to replace it with a new facility that meets the needs of the community.

The BET approved $1.4 million for repairs to the main library, whose ceiling and walls are leaking. Not part of the budget, but sorely needed, are longer evening hours for our branch libraries. Cos Cob and Byram Shubert libraries are open just one evening a week, while Perrot Library is open until 8 p.m. two nights a week. The town should negotiate the longer hours with union representatives, making them more accessible to residents, and relieving pressure on the main library.

 

Sean Goldrick is a Democratic member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, though the opinions expressed in this column are his own. He may be reached at [email protected]

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