$80M capital budget plan draws fire
GREENWICH — Critics of the first draft of the town’s proposed $80.2 million capital budget for the next fiscal year called it a wish list stuffed with items that are “nice to have” but are not “must haves.”
The capital budget proposal includes funds for multiyear projects, including developing plans for a new northwestern fire station and a new ice rink; planning renovations at the Round Hill Fire Station; completing soil remediation at Greenwich High; restoring Roger Sherman Baldwin Park; and making site plans for Eastern Greenwich Civic Center.
But it “appears to be a Santa’s wish list for everything in the town and I hope the selectman’s office, the BET and the RTM will find a way to make reasonable cuts and try to preserve and protect Greenwich as best we can,” Nancy Burke said at a public hearing about the capital budget plan on Tuesday night.
“Many friends” have left Connecticut due to the state’s fiscal woes and the high cost of living, said Burke, who represents District 2 on the Representative Town Meeting.
She was one of several residents, including other RTM members, who spoke out against the plan.
Henry Orphys, a member of the RTM’s District 7, said he hoped the town would “exercise as much restraint as we can” in looking at capital expenditures. Although individual projects seem worthy, added together the projects carry a big price tag and might not gain support, he said.
“Taxation is, at the end of the day, involuntary for those who oppose (projects) and to spend (tax) money on things that are nice to haves and not must haves in many cases requires some of our citizens to give up spending on things they consider to be must haves in exchange,” Orphys said.
Danyal Ozizmir, vice chair of the RTM’s Budget Overview Committee, said it is Greenwich’s low taxes that make the town stand out and keep property values high.
The hearing was held before the Capital Improvements Projects Committee, which is overseen by First Selectman Peter Tesei. And the work on the capital spending plan is far from complete.
“The CIP is a dynamic document,” Town Administrator Benjamin Branyan said at the hearing. “We learn things. We change things. We push things out and back, depending on the nature of what’s in front of us.”
Tesei will formally introduce the full 2018-19 municipal budget on Jan. 24.
“Consider tonight a point of departure on a relatively long road trip,” he said.
Work on a proposed northwestern fire station is a major addition to the budget. The RTM has voted down the project in the past, but it recently passed a “sense of the meeting resolution” calling for the first selectman and Board of Estimate and Taxation to study fire protection in town, particularly in the northwest corner.
Even if approved, construction of a station is still years away. But the 2018-19 budget includes $100,000 to do due diligence on finding a possible site for a fire house and Greenwich Emergency Medical Services station.
The fire station needs support from the BET and the RTM, and its advocates pushed hard for it at the hearing.
Gerald Anderson, chairman of the RTM’s District 10, which covers northwest Greenwich, said it was a “widespread misconception” that the new fire station would benefit only one part of town.
“It would of course protect more than 3,500 residents in that area as well as schools, businesses and churches in the northwest section,” Anderson said. “But it would also protect a much wider area of Greenwich because the fire service responds to emergencies as well as fires like accidents on the Merritt Parkway, rescuing people from storms and gas explosions and small plane crashes.”
With no northwest fire station, fire trucks from other parts Greenwich must respond to that corner of town, he said. That can leave other parts of Greenwich without adequate protection in emergencies.
“This is imperative not just for the northwest but for all of Greenwich,” Anderson said.
Most of northwest Greenwich is more than eight minutes from a fire station, said Louisa Stone, also in the RTM’s District 10 delegation. Other parts of town have fire stations in closer proximity.
“This is not just a cost, it’s an investment,” Stone said. “It will add value to all properties in town. After all, the protection of lives and property is a primary responsibility of town government.”
The capital budget also includes funds for maintenance and other work at town buildings. But it does not include work planned for school buildings, which are covered in a separate school budget.