The impact of the state's fiscal crisis on local and state services was the top of the discussion list during the Greenwich United Way's annual breakfast forum with the town's legislative delegation.
The discussion drew about 100 representatives and volunteers of local service agencies and local officials to Greenwich Town Hall on Dec. 13. Moderated by former United Way board member Brooke Urban, each legislator and First Selectman Peter Tesei were asked to address a specified issue.
The forum had a sobering start as Sen. L. Scott Frantz discussed the looming and ever-growing state deficit which is now pegged at $500 million. "We have a half-billion dollar deficit and we're only half-way through the budget (cycle). We were supposed to have a $300 to $350 million surplus and it is projected that we will have a $1 billion deficit in 2014 and a $1 billion deficit in 2015 after historic tax increases," Frantz said.
"If you look at the history, costs are growing at 7 percent and the state's population increase is a pancake," Frantz said. "The simple math is that this is unsustainable. Am I optimistic. Yes. It's amazing ... it becomes bi-partisan very quickly—we are elected to solve problems."
Frantz said he is "pretty confident there will be a solution—with very serious ramifications" for service agencies including the Department of Social Services and the Department of Children and Family Services." How serious those ramifications won't be known until next week when legislators see a line-by-line budget breakdown of the cuts proposed by Gov. Dannel Malloy, Frantz said.
One solution said Frantz is to improve the state's business environment, making it more attractive to businesses looking to relocate to Connecticut.
Asked whether charter and magnet schools were the answers to increasing student achievement and addressing racial imbalance in individual school populations, Rep.-elect Steve Walko said, there is conflicting data on the effectiveness of establishing charter and magnet schools. Walko said that in Greenwich magnet schools are working to "bring up the scores of each school but on another level, is not doing much relative to the racial imbalance."
He said the cost of charter schools and the results will be up for much discussion in Hartford.
Incumbent Rep. Livvy Floren discussed the needs for "work force shelter is a basic need right up there with food, clothing and water." The need is such, Floren said, state laws need to be revised on many fronts including defining affordable. She wants to see the state allow municipalities to write their own definition of 'affordable based upon their own demographics and real estate values."
Floren outlined some solutions to the issue in the video at right.
Rep. Fred Camillo said much work is needed to improve the performance of Connecticut Light & Power as evidenced during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.
A long-time proponent of underground utility installation, Camillo said the utility and muncipalities must devise a definitive plan to provide power to the elderly and infirm who are unable to leave their homes during storms and are left without power.
Camillo said he is exploring the creation of 'mini-SWAT teams' that would be assigned to make repairs to those residents.
Tesei said both short- and long-term challenges facing Greenwich are dependent upon the volatility of the national and international markets.
To help preserve and to expand the business climate in town Tesei said the town is surveying financial service firms on what "attracted them to Greenwich and what they see as a threat to relocating ... what is it we can do to insure their retention here." That effort came after ESL, a billion-dollar hedge fund run by Edward S. Lampert left Greenwich for Florida.
Keeping business in town, Tesei is imperative because of the business property tax revenue, their philanthropy to local charities, and what he called the 'human equity' factor—residents to serve on local boards and commissions.
He also said the faces economic challenges of funding current projects as well as deciding upon future capital projects including a new senior center, the pool at Byram Park, new Greenwich Fire Department outpost in the northwest corner of town and one for Greenwich Emergency Medical Service whose King Street outpost was condemned because of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.