By Peter J. Tesei and James Aiello
Connecticut’s fiscal crisis continues to place increasing pressure and instability on local economies, including Greenwich, with cuts to funding for municipal aid and to non-government organizations providing services to our vulnerable population.
In the budget adjustments for Fiscal 2019 released this week by Gov. Dannel Malloy, Greenwich stands to lose nearly 22% of its remaining State aid for Educational Cost Sharing Grant (ECS), Local Transportation Capital Improvement projects (LOTCIP), the Pequot-Mohegan Grant and reducing our paltry annual state aid from $1,550,322 to $1,212,355.
Despite these fiscal challenges and uncertainties, Greenwich has maintained stability in governance through years of proactive financial management and conservative revenue and expenditure assumptions in building the annual Town budget. To this end, the Fiscal year 2018-2019 budget recommended by the First Selectman reduces the rate of increase in the property tax mill rate to its lowest in several decades, just .032 %. Greenwich retains the lowest mill rate of the 169 municipalities in Connecticut and this benefits our efforts in attracting residents and businesses to locate here.
Economic growth in our Town also is critical to keeping Greenwich strong. To that end, we have more initiatives underway than ever before – all designed to sustain and grow our Town’s economy.
The First Selectman’s Economic Advisory Committee is comprised of 15 community volunteers, who represent several different industries with a cross-section of expertise, skills and knowledge, that are necessary for developing creative strategies that promote the economic advantages of living and working in Greenwich.
Economic Advisory Committee Chairman Jim Aiello explains, “Our committee’s recent priorities include initiating a public-private public relations/image campaign for Greenwich; participating in a regional marketing initiative called “Fairfield Five” to attract New York City businesses to our area; modernizing Greenwich’s land use policies; forging economic and cultural ties with targeted financial-service oriented communities in China, and co-sponsoring a major global hedge fund and private equity conference that will be held in Greenwich in the fall.”
Greenwich is proactively conducting a public relations/image campaign called “Think Greenwich,” which highlights the attributes of Greenwich as a desirable residential and business destination. Developed by the Economic Advisory Committee, it is now a public-private partnership between the Town and the business community, which has contributed more than $90,000 to this effort. “Think Greenwich” is more than a conventional PR effort. For the first time ever, the Town has an online social media campaign to communicate on various platforms why Greenwich is a highly desirable community to live, work, play and raise a family.
Greenwich also has recently joined four neighboring communities to form a group called “Fairfield Five”. This is a multi-town economic development initiative of Fairfield, Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk and Westport. We are targeting Tri-State businesses to sell them on the benefits of locating to Fairfield County. We are collaborating on marketing initiatives including business recruiting presentations in New York City.
On a more global basis, Greenwich is strengthening its ties to China. In June 2017, Greenwich signed a sister city agreement with the city of Hangzhou, China, which is emerging as a major investment fund center in China, alongside Shanghai and Beijing. There are plans to grow this relationship, including having Chinese financial and technology businesses and their employees locate and invest in Greenwich. Members of our Economic Advisory Committee have been representing Greenwich at a Global Alternative Investment Fund Conference in Hangzhou over the past two years, in order to promote our Town and the capabilities of the hedge fund and private equity firms that are in the greater Greenwich area.
Capitalizing on Greenwich as one of the major hedge fund capitals of the world, two members of the Economic Advisory Committee are forming a non-profit company to organize and host a global hedge fund and private equity conference to be held in Greenwich in the fall of this year, where the Town of Greenwich will be one of the event co-sponsors. This global summit is expected to attract top hedge fund managers, investors, economists and government officials from Greenwich, the State of Connecticut, as well as China and other major U.S. and international financial centers.
Finally, Greenwich’s Planning and Zoning Commission also is beginning the process of updating our Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), which is done once every 10 years. This Plan is the foundation for strategic and targeted development while maintaining the character and charm of our Town and neighborhoods. This is an important opportunity to plan for a strong economy in Greenwich.
Greenwich has significant challenges ahead with reduced state funding. Minimizing mill rate growth at or around 0% and encouraging economic activity through a diverse set of proactive and pro-growth positive initiatives that will counter the negative effects of the actions at the State level.
While we still need to work hard to manage our costs, Greenwich is in a strong financial position to weather these fiscal storms.
By working together, developing a modernized and strategic Plan of Conservation and Development, and undertaking a variety of proactive and pro-growth initiatives, Greenwich is taking a leadership role in bringing economic growth and prosperity back to Connecticut.
Peter Tesei is the Town of Greenwich First Selectman. James Aiello is the chairman of the First Selectman’s Economic Advisory Committee.