Updates from the Board of Estimate and Taxation

By: Richard Kaufman 

Every other week, the Greenwich Sentinel will bring you updates from Greenwich’s Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET). The BET is responsible for the proper administration of the financial affairs of the Town including the issuance of the annual recommended budget and setting the Town tax mill rate. The Board also acts on requests for additional appropriations, transfers and allotments made during the fiscal year.

BET Votes on Police Body Cameras (Note: this article was submitted for print before the BET special meeting on Thursday)

The BET has not had an official meeting since July. On July 20, while there was broad support on the issue, the board decided to delay a vote on an appropriation of $310,002 to purchase body cameras for the Greenwich Police Department in order to gather more information and answer outstanding questions.

At that meeting, BET members had questions about the multiyear contract needed for the body cameras, data storage and cybersecurity, risk management, Freedom of Information requests, as well as privacy concerns for domestic violence victims, and juveniles, notably at Greenwich High School where there are School Resource Officers.

The board also wanted to wait for Gov. Ned Lamont to act on the issue. On July 31, Lamont signed a sweeping police reform bill, which mandates that all municipalities in Connecticut must equip its officers with body cameras.

On Thursday, the BET held a special meeting to discuss their findings and vote on the appropriation. An approval sends the matter to the Representative Town Meeting for final adoption on Sept. 21.

Earlier this week, BET Chair, Michael Mason, said the appropriation for the body cameras now stands at $359,000, which is part of a multi-phase plan for the Greenwich Police Department.

“I think the vision of Police Chief [James Heavey] is to do body cameras right now, set up all of the software for the storage and the material and everything, and go from there. I think in the next year or two you’ll see something with vehicle cameras being added in. We’re setting up all of the software for that. Then there will be a question of whether we add in the special officers,” Mason said. “It’s about a five year program, and this is phase 1.”

Mason added that implementing body cameras is a “wise move for the Town of Greenwich.” He hopes to take advantage of a reimbursement grant from the state that could cover as much as 50 percent of the cost.

Current Budget Process Going Forward

COVID-19 made crafting this year’s budget difficult. The BET held all town department operating budgets to where they were in the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget.

The budget process for next year is already getting started. Mason said he understands town departments have built a budget for the normal Greenwich of a year or two ago.

“What we’re asking right now is for the departments to keep track of expenses above and beyond that normal budget due to COVID-19 and even [the strong storms we’ve had]. At the same time, we’re asking to keep track of the expenses that are not happening due to COVID-19,” Mason said.

“We’re also keeping track of any associated grants or funding that comes along due to the state and federal programs, so we plug that in. The idea is the BET is going to have to balance this out as we think about the next budget.”

Conversations about budget guidelines are currently taking place, and a draft is expected in November. Budget guidelines give the operating departments in the town an idea of what the BET thinks their budgets should look like going forward. It also has the BET’s best guestimate on what revenues are going to be.

The BET usually gets presented with the budget in late January, and embarks on a 6-8 week process of departmental review. In May, the budget goes to the RTM for adoption.

BET Agenda This Fall

This fall, as the BET gets back into action, Mason expects to take a look at the town’s debt schedules, policy and funding. He’s also looking for an update on an outside study which will look at special education in Greenwich Public Schools. There will also be the routine applications submitted to the board that will need approval.

“We’re going to continue to work with Nathaniel Witherell as they continue to make some management changes and implement some new strategies there, as well as receiving grants from the federal government,” Mason added.

“We definitely have a full agenda for the fall.”