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$245.2M Budget OK'd by BET Budget Committee

Greenwich tax increase would be 2.75 mills.

Weeks of line-by-line reviews of the proposed 2012-13 municipal and budgets by the Board of Estimate and Taxation culminated Wednesday with the approval of a $245,286,780 combined budget.

With capital improvement projects, employee health care, pension contributions and bond repayments, the overall budget totals $367,687,517 or 2.66 percent more than the current $358,147,551 fiscal plan. If approved intact by the full 12-member Board of Estimate and Taxation and the 230-member Representative Town Meeting, the proposed budget means Greenwich residents would see their tax rate of 10.111 mills rise by 2.75 percent to 10.389, which members described as one of the lowest in recent history.

The breakdown is $106,034,560 for town spending, $139,252,220 for Greenwich public schools, (including utilities), or 2.29 percent more than the $103,657,407 the town, and 2.16 percent more than the $136,312,034 board of education, have in their current budgets.

The committee voted to set aside $7 million that is expected to pay for the cleanup of contaminated soil on the campus. Local officials and a private consulting firm are working with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to determine the extent of the soil contamination.

The cleanup must be done before work can proceed with the $28 milllion. Two weeks after work began in July 2011 around athletic fields surrounding the school on Hillside Road, the contamination including PCBs was discovered and work was halted. Finance officials acknowledged that the actual cleanup costs are unknown and won't be until further testing including that of surrounding residential water wells is done.

Other capital improvement project changes approved included the elimination of $250,000 to Greenwich Emergency Medical Service for its proposed establishment of a new station on Riversville Road, to improve response time in the northwest sector of town.

A $700,000 allocation was added to the budget to increase staffing of professional firefighters at the Glenville station from 2 to 4 each shift.

At the conclusion of the meeting that lasted a little more than 2 hours in the Cone Room of Town Hall, Budget Committee Chair Joseph Pellegrino said the four-member committee took a look "at the high level of services our residents expect and the willingness to fund those services. We tried to strike a balance between these two competing forces, addressing the needs of both side. I feel we did an extremely good job."

There are some special interest groups, however, that are unhappy with some recommendations the committee approved. A $150,000 capital projects allocation for the design of the proposed pool project was cut. Pellegrino later said the public-private partnership with the has $75,000 remaining in this year's budget that will help cover those expenses. He said that the league can return to the BET later this year if it needs more money.

The league sought the additional money to help its fund-raising efforts to replace the aging, leaking pool that is not handicapped accessible and does not have restroom facilities, and with a maximum capacity of 40 swimmers. By having a town financial commitment, pool proponents have said it would enable them to raise private funds to pay for the estimated $5 million project.

Democratic Selectman Drew Marzullo said he was "very upset" the committee rejected the pool funding. Democratic Town Committee Chair Frank Farricker left the meeting after the vote. He described Democratic BET member William Finger's vote against the pool as "almost petulant ... I don't know why he didn't leave it in and let the whole BET vote. They are penalizing a highly organized private group in the Junior League."

Following the meeting, Finger said, "I am 100 percent behind the pool initiative. It is an example of how we allowed certain town assets to deteriorate. It was clear to me that the $75,000 that remains allows them to do design, site plans and schematics to develop operating and construction costs." He added, "I think it's clear to the Junior League that the design and cost estimates gives them what they need to go out and raise money. Not funding $150,000 does not send a signal that this project is dead."

He and Pellegrino said there is money in both the Department of Public Works and Parks and Recreation department budgets for interim appropriations to "allow the pool to move forward" once the design and cost estimates are finalized.

The BET will hold its public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. March 20 in the Town Hall Meeting Room.

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