New ideas

FI-EditorialA municipal budget that addresses Greenwich’s capital needs while keeping the mill rate increase to 1.7%? It seems too good to be true but we may never know unless the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) gives it a thorough examination.

BET members Sean Goldrick and Randall Huffman unveiled their plan at a press conference on Tuesday. Under their proposal, the town would save $81 million over the next four years with the mill rate at 1.7% in the next fiscal year and 2.2% in 2016-17, far below the 2.75% increases in the mill rate the town has had recently.

But wait, there’s more. The Northwest fire station? Paid for. The municipal pool? Part of the plan. Dredge Binney Pond and address townwide drainage issues? It’s in there too.

Who wouldn’t want this, especially when BET Budget Committee Chairman Marc Johnson unveiled a first draft proposed guidelines on Tuesday night that called for work with all town boards to find close to $10 million in savings just to get a budget similar to this year’s. Next to that the Goldrick/Huffman plan sounds good, doesn’t it?

Well’ we’ll probably never know because neither Mr. Goldrick nor Mr. Huffman have the power to introduce their own set of guidelines. Nor have they been able to bring their plan to the full BET despite multiple requests. And that’s a real shame. The plan deserves a full and open discussion because it has many commendable parts.

Will the entire plan work and provide the savings its proponents claim while still addressing critical capital needs? It’s impossible to say when the plan is merely a stack of papers now. But it should at least be considered. There’s nothing in this plan that’s radical or out of line and all the numbers have been worked on with town budget officials, just as with Mr. Johnson’s proposals. Serious scrutiny and debate will give us a better idea if this plan could work or if it’s just a well-meaning fantasy. Nothing’s going to happen if it just sits in a drawer.

Why is the BET so opposed to considering an alternative? Right now there’s plenty of time to consider options. It’s not February. It’s not even October. Why not at least give it a look to see if it holds water? Is it because it involves long-term borrowing? BET Republicans have rejected that out of hand without seeming to consider the merits.

Maybe it’s because the plan comes from Mr. Goldrick, who has been tarred and feathered (metaphorically of course) as a liberal and has found a way to get under the skin of many of his colleagues. Maybe it’s because he and Mr. Huffman are Democrats and therefore shouldn’t be listened to by the Republican power structure?

The real answer is unknown but there’s no good reason to not even consider the proposal. It might not work. There are controversial aspects to it, like reducing the police force and consolidating fire stations, as well as welcome and overdue ideas like long-term financing and putting in a tipping fee for commercial haulers to create new revenue. But without a full discussion and legitimate consideration we will never know.

What’s the point of having a budget process at all if duly elected members in good standing are completely ignored? Mr. Goldrick and Mr. Huffman went directly to the press because they felt they didn’t have a voice at meetings. It would be in everyone’s best interests if they did.

Let’s see if these ideas can work. The public should put pressure on BET members to give this a full and fair hearing. Simply ignoring this proposal would be a huge mistake for the BET.

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