Fiscal priorities

The air is turning crisp and cool and the leaves are starting to turn. Autumn is officially around the corner and we can feel it coming like a very welcome friend.

So is this really the time we want to be talking about the town budget? There’s the new school year, the heating up of the political races, the return of football and the crescendo of the baseball season. There’s so much going on out there that is now the right place to be focused on dry numbers and calculations?

Well, if you care about what this town’s future is going to be then you’d better be paying attention because the budget process is beginning and if you blink it will be March and the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) will be voting as you wonder why the project you desperately want for this town is left out in the cold again.

It happened last year with the desperately needed municipal pool and a new Greenwich Emergency Medical Services (GEMS) station, and it nearly happened with MISA too many times to count. But that auditorium is going through, thanks to pure people power and it can happen with these projects and others that you want if you show the BET that this is what Greenwich’s priorities should be.

Nothing will happen unless voices are heard. There will be many opportunities in the weeks and months to come and they need to be capitalized upon.

What always stands out about the BET and most specifically the four-person budget committee is the awesome power they have without ever facing voter scrutiny. In recent memory there has not been a competitive BET election and the members are always chosen by the Republican and Democratic town committees, select groups that only minorities of this town’s voters are a part of. These people have the power to cut funding for projects and set fiscal courses for this town and never can truly be held accountable to the voters.

Every two years our Board of Selectmen faces that accountability and as such they are very receptive to the people’s needs and wants. But not the BET. The political parties pick their members and we are left living with the rules they set.

Now this is not to criticize the BET members or the four on the budget committee. We may not always agree with the members and their decisions, but the 12 members of the board are all honorable people with good intentions, and in fact both BET Chairman Michael Mason and Budget Committee Chairman Joseph Pellegrino have taken pains in recent years to include the public in the process and explain why they make the choices they do.

This is a message, instead, to the people of Greenwich who want a say in how the priorities are set. This is not a time to think about doing things later. This is a time to organize. This is a time to get together to show the decision makers what they want for the town.

You want a pool for all the people of town to enjoy? Then let’s make it happen. Want to see increased GEMS presence in northwest Greenwich? Let’s work together on it. And down the list we can go, through the projects that help make Greenwich the kind of town where people want to live and raise young families. Our identity cannot just be stable and predictable mill rate increases. It has to be about us fighting for the services and spending that makes this a community that takes care of its residents.

We pay in with our taxes and we deserve to be paid back by Greenwich by having a community responsive to the people’s priorities. So it may be early on the calendar, but it’s never too early to get to work.

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