Two reports highlight key challenges for Greenwich

Newsletter Volume 2 • Number 34

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Two reports highlight key challenges for Greenwich: schools, traffic, energy use

A new satisfaction survey of residents has found that overall, Greenwich is a great place to live, especially because of our parks, beaches and open space. But in a clear warning that Town Hall must do more, respondents highlighted schools and traffic as the top two issues needing attention.

Top resident concern: schools

“Across multiple open-ended responses, residents mentioned that school buildings needed to be updated and renovated, with some citing that they felt the infrastructure was unsafe,” the polling firm Probolsky Research concluded. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. In recent years, Democrats have sought to unlock better financing to repair and replace deteriorating schools, while the Republican majority at Town Hall used its power to delay and cut school building plans. Last October all six Democrats on the Board of Estimate and Taxation pushed through funding for a new Central Middle School as squabbling Republicans divided on the issue.

Traffic hampering quality of life

On traffic, the research company found “control and management (as well as available parking) … was the top identified service or project that would make Greenwich a better place to live.” At the same time, the report noted, “residents are also concerned about the Town being pedestrian-friendly with many suggesting the need for more sidewalks and proper traffic control for safety.”

This, too, reflects poorly on the lack of long-term vision and stewardship of the town. In 2009, Greenwich eliminated its Division of Traffic Engineering and laid off the superintendent as a cost cutting move, erasing full-time focus from safe and efficient traffic flow. So unlike many other communities, Greenwich does not have a policy or manual for planning streets with all users in mind: autos, pedestrians, cyclists and others.

On energy use and savings, Greenwich “going in the wrong direction”

At the same time, an annual report by the town’s Energy Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) has concluded that the Town of Greenwich failed to reduce energy consumption significantly across its facilities, while energy spending has increased 23% over the last two years. Costs rose because of dramatically escalating prices for natural gas, heating oil and electricity.“We are going in the wrong direction,” the report concluded, “and there has been very little progress in reducing the Town’s energy use.”

EMAC is charged with helping the town reduce energy spending by 20-40% this decade, in part to lower energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, the total amount of energy consumed was flat between 2021 and 2022, and fell only 3% in 2023 (after normalizing for a warmer winter and the absence of the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center building.)

New buildings must meet higher energy standards

The report noted that the biggest levers left for reducing energy consumption and meeting BET budget guidelines are in the design of new buildings to higher standards of energy efficiency. Smaller projects “are also important, but they cannot deliver the step change necessary to provide significant budget relief to the Town,” the report said. The major opportunities EMAC identifies are the new Central Middle School (CMS), the renovation of Old Greenwich School, and a new Dorothy Hamill rink.

The debate on how best to save facilities’ energy costs and reduce emissions is already well underway, especially regarding CMS, where the building committee opted for a traditional, gas-burning HVAC system. Also, EMAC contends that the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center was built without their input, “jeopardizing decades of potential energy savings.” Of course, it’s more than the cost that hangs in the balance. EMAC concluded that if we can’t figure this out, we will share responsibility for “inundating rains, coastal and riverine flooding, heat records being broken seemingly every year, less overall snow, and more powerful storms.

The town’s financial board must fix these deficiencies

We’re in budget season, where priorities such as traffic control, schools, and energy reduction can be addressed. The town recently received a grant to develop a transportation plan, and the Board of Selectmen passed a climate action plan. But these initiatives must be funded by the Board of Estimate and Taxation. We hope that this time, our elected representatives will meet our challenges head on.

When election losses turn to censorship efforts

In a blatant attack on free speech and the freedom of the press, the Greenwich Republican Party filed a baseless election complaint against a two-mom blogger team, The Voting Moms, and a host of others—Republicans, Unaffiliateds, Democrats—for doing what many of the RTC’s supporters do: recommending candidates for the RTM. Only in The Voting Mom’s case, many of those they backed won, effectively ousting the RTC’s right wing from positions of political power.Citizen journalists, like the two Greenwich moms who put out the newsletter, serve a vital function at a time when professional news organizations are under duress. We may not agree with Republican former State Rep. Harry Arora’s “from the desk of” emails with voting recommendations (Wait, is he still in office?) or the Patriots’ unhinged weekly screed, but we recognize their right to do it. Shame on you, RTC. Is free speech free only when it’s yours?

Volume 2, Number 34 • January 25, 2024
Paid for by the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee.
Greenwich Democratic Town Committee P.O. Box 126 Greenwich, CT 06836