Focus on future

FI-EditorialThe budget process for 2014-15 is dead. Long live the budget process for 2015-16.

Nothing quite so dramatic as that was announced at the end of this week’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) budget vote, but there is a big kernel of truth in that sentiment. After all, in several important ways, as soon as the final RTM vote is tallied, allowing the town’s budget to be in place for the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1, the work begins on next year’s budget.

And that’s as it should be. Without smart, long-term planning and an eye on the future, the process would be chaotic, and if there’s one thing the RTM doesn’t need it’s more chaos. In fact, this budget process was relatively drama-free. The attempt to cut funding for GEMS rightly fizzled out (for now, but we’re watching those who think it’s a good idea to replace this vital service), and the air has so gone out of the repeated fights to cut MISA that one even expected Don Quixote to show up and go, “Guys, seriously, enough!”

Three of the four budget cuts that were brought to the floor were easily defeated and the one cut that did pass (the cut of $375,000 to redesign the intersection of North Street, Fairfield Road and Parsonage Road) had such strong and unified RTM support that no one bothered to defend the unpopular plan. The RTM even managed to wrap up in a little bit under three hours, practically a miracle by this body’s standards.

The most interesting ideas expressed were about looking toward the future and the need for ongoing dialogue. And this is where we agree … even when we don’t.

The Budget Overview Committee (BOC) has long spoken out about town spending. The rate of spending, its members claim, has far outpaced both resident income growth and the rate of inflation, and cuts need to be made, both to services and to capital projects. We do not agree, but still, there’s no reason not to have a real conversation about this. Paraphrasing BOC head Lucia Jansen, What kind of town do we want to be?

It’s not an easily answered question, considering the diversity of views among Greenwich residents, so let’s talk about this, not just in quick speeches at budget meetings but in long-term discussions throughout the summer so when the budget process for next year heats up we have a far more informed town.

Should we cut? Should we invest? To the Post the answer is obvious, and we have long championed ideas put forth by Board of Estimate and Taxation Democrats for far more robust investment in the town’s infrastructure and in the services offered. Many of our school buildings are falling apart, even if it’s not obvious to everyone (just ask the Board of Education), and the town’s cash reserves sit idle, not doing anybody any good.

While we have disagreed about its call for cuts, we support the BOC’s efforts as it creates a subcommittee to look at the future of the budget. There might be disagreement about the conclusions, but the conversation is too important not to have. We hope there will be full buy-in to this idea from all points of view so there can be a real debate that will educate Greenwich residents. Let everyone be part of the discussion of where Greenwich is going.

If the clock truly has begun on the 2015-16 budget, there’s no reason not to make this process the most productive and informative one ever.

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