The RTM should consider full impact of spending before vote

FI-Letter-to-the-EditorTo the Editor

The Budget Overview Committee by a unanimous vote believes it’s our responsibility to highlight long-term trends that have resulted from the historical budget decisions of Greenwich’s government.

Based on the 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), we note the following trends during the period 2004-2013:

• Our population rose by 0.5%.

• School enrollment fell by 2.7%.

• Personal per-capita income increased by 23.0%.

• Total personal income increased by 23.5%.

• The unemployment rate increased from 2.9% to 6.0%.

• Town total (operating and capital) spending increased by 53.2%.

• Town operating spending increased by 50.6%.

• Property tax collected increased by 49.6%.

• Debt outstanding increased by 254%.

Every year the first selectman and BET say the goal is to provide level services with predictable and modest increases in taxes. However, as we look at the 10-year trend, the cost of government has increased significantly. Personal income is up 23.5% while spending is up 53.2%. We also understand from the first selectman’s and the BET’s budget messages that in the future increases in pension, health care and debt service will further pressure the budget.

Why did town spending increase faster than incomes and inflation? We offer two broad themes for consideration:

Were the town services provided in 2004 inadequate? Did spending increase to provide additional services that were either desired or required by the citizens? How were expenses impacted by unfunded mandates?

If services are considered level, then did the town become less efficient in providing these services, as spending has materially outpaced inflation and income growth?

We urge each standing committee to review budgets with these questions in mind.

We appreciate that budgeting is a challenging process with many constituencies asking for resources for laudable goals. But the net impact of our collective decisions is to materially increase the tax burden for our residents, particularly our seniors and our unemployed.

Do we really need each new initiative or project? If so, are there existing programs that provide less impact that could be eliminated? Is the department vigorously analyzing options in new processes, people, and technology to more efficiently deliver a particular service?

 

The preceding letter was submitted by the members of the Representative Town Meeting’s Budget Overview Committee.

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