A combined town and Greenwich Public Schools budget of $381,909,979 is on the table before the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation Budget Committee.
That's the fiscal plan presented by First Selectman Peter Tesei Monday night at his annual budget presentation in Greenwich Town Hall. And during the public hearing that followed, the seven speakers clamored for more spending than the proposed budget which would—if approved by the BET—would cost taxpayers an extra 2.96 percent more than they're paying now. (The current mill rate is 10.11 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.)
Tesei said the increase represents "a balanced approach to meeting our objective in minimizing taxes while maximizing services. ... I believe the budget I have proosed will provide the needed resources to our departments to meet our priorities of life safety, educational excellence, the maintenance of our infrastructure and the protection of our residents' health ... the essential services that are required to maintain the value of having a home and living in Greenwich."
(To read Tesei's entire budget message, please see the PDF at right.)
The breakdown for those services include a town budget of $107,279,448; an education budget of $142,099,644; capital budget of $35,400,000 and non capital fixed charges of $97,130,887 for a proposed 2013-14 total of $381,909,979 or 3.86 percent more than this year's total spending plan of $367,712,313. (The town budget proposal and the proposed capital improvements budget can be seen in the PDFs at right.)
The budget committee begins its departmental budget reviews tomorrow at 9 a.m. in Training Room A of Greenwich Police Headquarters. (For a schedule, please see the attached PDF.) All meetings are open to the public.
The operating budget request is $142.1 million, which is a 1.97% increase over the current budget of $139,357,220. It is "the lowest increase in over 10 years, which was the furthest we could go back," said Board of Ed Chair Leslie Moriarty.
Both Moriarty and School Superintendent William McKersie said the budget is focused on improving student achievement with a focused transition to the Common Core studies, bringing digital learning to all classrooms and continued infrastructure improvements.
McKersie said the district wants to take a phased-in approach to digital learning. "It is not the plan anymore to buy a lot of equipment and devices," McKersie said. The district is now seeking to resolve digital access issues, which will then allow educators to implement plans to follow the Common Core curriculum.
"There is no way our students will achieve the common core standards without a digital environment," McKersie said. "Give us universal access to high quality teaching and learning." Digital learning will allow the district to continue to improve student achievement, which McKersie said ranks among the top districts of comparable size and demographics in the state.
McKersie also said that despite a reorganization of the district's central office and the elimination of the arts and health and life sciences chairs, the district remains committed to providing instruction in those areas, especially since the town has committed $3.1 million to the Music Instructional Space and Auditorium project at Greenwich High School for 2013-14.
Increasing support of the Board of Education budget and the inclusion of a $200,000 allocation to continue engineering and design work for a proposed Byram Pool and Park renewal project were the focus of comments made during the public hearing held after the budget presentations.
Lisa Beth Savitz, president of the Parent Teacher Association Council, told the budget committee the group is "concerned with the state of facilities." She said the need for maintenance and infrastructure upgrades is pressing and that the Board of Ed's proposed capital budget "should remain $10 million regardless of MISA." The BET has requested the board submit an $8 million capital budget.
Parent Gaetane Francis asked the committee keep the budget intact rather than make cuts. "I would love to stand here and ask you to give the schools more money," however, she said realizes that a compromise must be reached.
Representative Town Meeting Members Christine Edwards and Donald Conway, (please see video) and Greenwich Junior League President Emily Sternberg all made pleas the committee make a commitment to the proposed Byram Park Pool renewal project. The Junior League has been working for two years to develop a plan to replace the leaking pool and create a larger recreational swim facility in the waterfront park on the western edge of town. It has committed $20,000 towards the $200,000 allocation being sought to continue engineering and design plans.
Edwards urged the committee to visit new pool facilities built in New Canaan and Ridgefield.
John Blankley, who unsuccessfully ran against Tesei in 2011, said the committee should alter its spending plans. "You have gone to the wrong side of the divide. … I just happen to feel that with this budget you have gone a little too far in cutting." He said the town should take advantage of low interest rates and finance its capital projects with long-term borrowing.
*Editor's note: this story has been updated to correct the tax rate increase that would result if the budget is adopted. The proposed budget is 3.86 percent more than this year and the tax increase on the budget would be 2.96 percent.