The annual rite of winter has begun.
The Greenwich budget season began in earnest Monday night when First Selectman Peter Tesei unveiled his proposed 2014-15 budget of $397,492,171 — a 4.54 percent increase over the current $380,233,369.
If the budget were to be approved by the Board of Estimate and Taxation — which begins budget deliberations at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4 — and, the Representative Town Meeting, the town's mill rate of 10.75 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, would increase by 3.25 percent.
Acccording to Tesei, the breakdown of the budget includes $111,507,854 for the town's operating budget; $37,400,000 in capital improvement projects, and $104,644,666 in fixed charges.
School Superintendent William McKersie and Board of Education Chair Barbara O'Neill outlined the proposed $143,939,653 budget — which includes a 2.10 percent increase over the current $140,973,844 budget. Much of the increase is attributed to expansion of digital learning tools and programming and state mandated education initiatives including the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, as well as efforts to close the student achievement gap because of racial imbalance at Hamilton Avenue, Julian Curtiss and New Lebanon schools.
Tesei said his budget proposal represents months of work by town department heads and "it's the best collective effort for a modest and predictable tax rate."
According to Tesei, among the increased fixed costs in the budget are the town's contributions for pensions that will increase by nearly $3 million to $22.7 million, and health care at $48,000,000, up from $44.5 million.
Among the new initiatives Tesei is proposing is the hiring of nine additional firefighters to increase staffing of professional firefighters assigned to the Sound Beach and Byram stations from two to three.
We open ourselves up to exposure that we are knowingly not providing the most adequate response that we can.
"This is an incremental step that would allow Sound Beach and Byram to have a third firefighter on an engine," Tesei explained. "It is also tied to the advancement of a northwest station. That is an identified need. We do have a gap of coverage in northwest Greenwich and that can only be addressed by resources and manpower." Tesei added, "The water sources are only as good as the people there to use them."
Proposed capital improvement project expenditures include $4 million for a new emergency radio system for police, fire and emergency medical services; $9 million for soil remediation at Greenwich High School; $1.7 million to complete the Cos Cob Park, and $2.2 million for the continued upgrade and improvement at the Holly Hill transfer station.
The budget committee meetings are open to the public, however, public comment will be heard on March 18.