Just 48 hours before the Greenwich is to vote on its budget recommendations for the 2012-13 fiscal year, about 50 town residents and employees, and elected officials took advantage of the board's budget public hearing to make their case for various line items.
The 16 speakers took less than an hour to weigh in on:
- The project at Greenwich High School;
- The proposed King Street firehouse;
- Health insurance for volunteer firefighters;
- Digitization of inland-wetland maps;
- Reinstating funding for a health department emergency preparedness coordinator.
- Funding of bathroom renovations at the .
The BET will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Meeting Room of Town Hall to cast their votes on the proposed $245.2 million fiscal plan for town and board of education operating budgets and the capital budget. The budget will then be the subject of nearly 2 months of review by the 230-member Representative Town Meeting (RTM) which is scheduled to vote May 14. Then it's back to the BET which will set the mill rate on May 21.
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 March 20 hearing at the auditorium was a sharp contrast to last year's hearing packed with MISA supporters.
King Street Firehouse:
RTM Moderator Pro Tempore Joan Caldwell chastised the BET for its reversal of $150,000 support to design the long-proposed King Street firehouse, on a town-owned parcel adjacent to the municipal Griffith Harris Golf Course. The BET on March 19, rejected release of the money saying it wanted the town to pursue alternative building sites in the area.
Caldwell said, "In the last 2 years, the BET has undertaken what looks like a $38 million money pit (MISA and soil remediation). Meanwhile our fire safety has gone unnoticed. When you ask people to pay taxes, when they tell you you they need a service (and it goes unanswered) … there is a loss of trust between you and the people of northwest Greenwich. It’s going to take a disaster ... and then you’re going to hear us. God help us … town hall is filled with reports that for 15 years said 'we need this project.' " She also said that if the BET pursues alternative sites from private landowners "it surely will be expensive."
Health insurance for volunteers:
Chief Sandy Kornberg urged the BET to reinstate the $40,000 it preliminarily rejected to fund health insurance coverage for volunteer firefighters. Each side is at odds over eligibility requirements. Kornberg said insurance should be provided to all volunteers, including aging members who now perform administrative duties rather active duty by fighting fires. He expressed hope that both sides could reach a compromise before the March 22 BET vote.
Digitization of land maps:
Director of the town's Inland-Wetlands Commission, Michael Chambers, told the committee he wanted "to make a deal." Echoeing comments made by other speakers, Chambers requested the BET restore $27,000 to digitize land maps dating back to 1976. "I'll give up the $4,000 for an intern" so the department can provide electronic images of data required by permit applicants. He said by having online, electronic images, department staff would be able to spend more time in the field conducting inspections and surveys of pending land use applications. First Selectman Peter Tesei also voice support of the request.
Health department emergency preparedness coordinator:
Health Commission Vice Chairman Dr. Marilyn Ross Cahn told the board "natural and mandmade threats to Greenwich and elsewhere remain" so it is necessary to fund the full-time position that would complemet the part-time emergency preparedness director so develop response and training programs to deal with bioterrorism, disaster preparedness and disaster responses.
Tesei also voiced his support of the $30,000 allocation for the position that also would be eligible for federal funding. Former RTM member Karen Fassuliotis also urged reinstatement of the position by using money that would be saved if the MISA project were put on hold.
Greenwich Senior Center restroom renovations:
Director of the Commission on Aging, Sam Diebler, point blankly asked the board "have you been inside those bathrooms? Do you know how bad they are? The conditions are terrible," in his argument that the facilities need to be upgraded to from their 1970s state to meet current Americans With Disabilities Act requirements. "We have more members who use wheelchairs and scooters. There isn't enough room for the turning radius needed to accommodate seniors using those mobile devices, Diebler said.
RTM Finance Committee Vice Chair, Angela Hyland, said the BET should "adjust or eliminate MISA appropriation until the full cost of soil remediation is determined. You should re-evaluate in light of current realities facing this town."
And Fassuliotis also argued the town should hold off spending more money on the MISA project when cleanup estimates have not been calculated. (Please see video.)