Gutting renovation funding for Julian Curtiss and Old Greenwich Schools. Rejecting improvements to fire safety in Northwest Greenwich. Striking dollars to bring Greenwich into ADA compliance, and mitigate coastal damage from climate change-driven flooding. Cutting the public safety budget for roads and highways. What do all these decisions have in common?
They were made by a single person who is not directly elected.
If control over purse-strings is the measure of power, then the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) is the most powerful office in Greenwich, and its chair, the most powerful person. The BET is the fiduciary authority of the Town and controls the town and Board of Education budgets. The BET determines how much should be spent on infrastructure, schools, and services for town residents.
But here’s where things get tricky.
The BET is composed of six Republican and six Democratic members. In the case of tie votes, whichever party received more votes in the biennial election for BET seats gets a tie-breaking vote, which can be used by the chairman.
With their tie-breaking vote, Republican BET members have imposed policies that starve Town residents of needed services and prove more costly in the long run. When underfunded infrastructure collapses or has to be condemned, as happened with the North Mianus School and Central Middle School, it exposes individuals to harm and the Town to legal liability and emergency repair costs.
In last year’s FY2023 budget, using their tie breaking vote, Republican BET members stripped critical funding for public safety from the budget. This included funding for the Town to implement the recommendations of a fire study to improve inadequate fire response times in Northwest Greenwich.
They also removed funding requested by the Fire Chief for the last three years for a new ladder fire truck, funding for police to connect to the Public Safety Data Network, and for the Department of Public Works to conduct highway maintenance.
The Republican BET members used their tie-breaking vote to reject the funds requested by the Board of Education to renovate and expand the 75 year old Julian Curtiss School, a project with broad community support, and reduced funding for an Old Greenwich School expansion and renovation study.
They also rejected a motion to use long-term financing to pay for soil remediation at Greenwich High School and Western Middle School, a decision which throws into question how the long list of neglected capital projects in our Town will be funded.
In 2021, Republican BET members used their tie-breaking voteto strip funding for an engineering study of Central Middle School. The concerns about the safety of the building were so deep that electronic devices were installed on the walls to monitor growing cracks!
Fortunately, the Board of Education was able to tap into
federal Covid relief funds, and the resulting study found thatthe building was structurally unsafe, prompting immediate closure.
“Deferring needed action until an emergency occurs is not sound fiscal management. One doesn’t wait until a roof collapses or a retaining wall gives way to repair one’s house, as the delay will increase the costs – and expose a family to danger,” said Joe Angland, Chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee.
When it came to adopting budget guidelines for the FY2024 budget, once again, the Republican BET members used that tie-breaking vote to push through guidelines that fail to plan for the capital needs of the Town, effectively kicking a can down the road that’s already been kicked for years.
What you can do.
Budget season is about to kick off. It’s important to participate to make sure that projects you care about get funded. Find the BET budget calendar and documents here, attend a public hearing, and contact BET members about your priorities.
But most importantly, don’t forget to vote for all six Democrats for the BET on November 7. Whichever party gets the most votes, controls that critical tie-breaking vote.
CT’s Senator Richard Blumenthal traveled with two other U.S. Senators by overnight train to Ukraine last week to meet with President Zelensky. Senator Blumenthal has visited Ukraine three times in the last year. Blumenthal successfully lobbied the White House upon his return to convince Germany to release tanks that can get to Ukraine faster than American tanks.
What have our State Representatives been up to?
Last week was the deadline for submitting bill concepts to the State Assembly. Representative Rachel Khanna submitted bills to grow employment in education and health; to rebuild our transportation infrastructure; to protect our environment; and to care for our first responders.
Representative Steve Meskers submitted legislation to give local zoning authorities greater control over efficiency and renewable energy regulations, bills to simplify income tax deductions for social security benefits, and a bill to encourage green building initiatives by schools.
Representative Hector Arzeno, who sits on the environment committee, submitted bills to reduce single use plastic waste, to restrict the use of a highly toxic class of pesticides, and to include teaching of financial literacy in the high school curriculum.
CALL TO ACTION!
Sign petition to accept election grant
As you may know, Republicans are contesting a fair and legal vote by the Greenwich RTM allowing the Town Registrars of Voters to accept a no-strings-attached award of $500K to improve our voting system. First Selectman Fred Camillo, however, refuses to sign off on it, which he is required to do. Local Democrat Jonathan Perloe is circulating a petition demanding Camillo do what is required of him. You can add your signature here.
For Your Calendar
January 31: A farmer’s perspective on food and climate change. This informative discussion will explore Connecticut’s food system from the perspective of farmer and food justice advocate Steve Munno, Farm Manager of the Massaro Community Farm. Brought to you by the The Greenwich Sustainability Committee January 31, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Coffee for Good: 48 Maple Avenue, Greenwich.
February 1: Climate Justice in CT. The YWCA is hosting a panel in person and via Zoom to explore the disparate impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities, and offer solutions for a more equitable and just response to climate change in Connecticut. Wednesday February 1, 7:00-8:30 p.m.
To register, please click here.
February 1: K-12 Climate Action in CT. Waste Free Greenwich is co-hosting a webinar highlighting ways that public schools can mitigate, adapt, educate and advance equity toward climate action. This is particularly relevant to the building projects at Central Middle, Old Greenwich School and Julian Curtiss. Register here. Wednesday February 1, 7 – 8 p.m.
Calling all Volunteers
Greenwich Human Services Emergency Response Unit seeks volunteers to support our migrant community. Interpreters, greeters, monitors, help with registrations, mental health support needed. Please email Info@ywcagreenwich.org for more information.
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