Updates from the Greenwich 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.

Routine Applications

The BET met earlier this week for their first official regular meeting since July. The board unanimously approved three routine applications with no debate.

The first application dealt with Nathaniel Witherell (NW). NW was awarded $160,000 from the Community Development Block Grant Program for the rehabilitation of their Pavilion exterior. This award had previously been approved by the Selectman’s Office, the BET and Representative Town Meeting (RTM).

The request on Monday was to authorize the appropriation which will allow NW to spend the funds. The application was approved 12-0-0.

“You’re seeing the BET authorizing Nathaniel Witherell to spend the money on the project, and at the same time authorizing them to accept the grant for their revenues to come in,” said BET Chair, Michael Mason, on Tuesday. “So we spend the money and the check comes in, and we just backfill the account.”

The next application was to authorize the Health Department to allocate $67,736. The funds came as a result from a grant that Health Department Director, Caroline Baisley, applied for.

The money will be put towards two Professional Medical Consultants; one who will support the Division of Special Services (HIV, STD, Blood borne Programs), and the other who will support the Division of Family Health by providing assistance to adults in need of podiatry services.

A portion of the funds will also go towards a part-time Billing Specialist, a temporary Public Promotional Specialist, and social security benefits.

“Caroline Baisley is a superstar in town,” Mason said. “She is continuously looking for grants for everything from fighting viruses to blood borne programs to testing to immunization.”

The last application called for the BET to release funds ($2,725,000) for the construction of new home side bleachers at Greenwich High School.

The multi-phased project can now begin. Phases 1A and 1B includes: the construction of new home side bleachers with a press box, additional structure below the bleachers that are ADA accessible including an elevator, team room, rest rooms, entry kiosk and handicap parking.

The money was placed in the 2019-2020 municipal budget, but conditions were placed on the release of the funds.

Phase 2 includes visitor bleachers and an additional structure for team rooms, restrooms and storage. This phase also includes additional site work related to the driveway, access to the Post Road, and movement of the tennis courts.

“[The Board of Education] can take the project to bids, get drawings and pricing, and they’re allowed to commit to the project and get to work,” Mason said.

Biannual Review of Town Fund Balance & Debt Policy

At Monday’s BET meeting, Mason tasked Republican BET members Andy Duus and Bill Drake, along with Democrats Leslie Moriarty and David Weisbrod, with forming a special project team to review the town’s fund balance and debt policy, which are reviewed every two years.

About 10-12 years ago, credit rating agencies were recommending towns have between 5-10 percent of their annual operating budget in reserve.

“Every two years, the BET rules say we have to revisit and make sure we want to maintain that policy or modify it,” Mason said.

The town’s debt service policy is somewhat tied to the fund balance.

“How do we want to borrow for [capital] projects, for what length of time, what do the projections look like? We look at funding, how we want to fund in the future, and we create the policy. That policy allows the Town Administrator and First Selectman to have an idea of what they think they can commit to [in budgets],” Mason said.

Duus, Drake, Moriarty and Weisbrod will look at everything from different recommendations from credit rating agencies to different potential funding mechanisms, Mason said. Mason asked the group to report back to the BET by November.

BET Leadership to Begin Meetings with First Selectman, Town Administrator

Traditionally, there have been monthly meetings between the First Selectman, Town Administrator, BET Chair, and the BET minority caucus leader. Mason said those meetings will start up once again after there was “sort of a breakdown” in the last term.

“This is just a chance for communication. People have lost the value of live meetings and being able to chat with people and have a quick conversation about something or running an idea. This is really good that [Town Administrator] Ben Branyan, [First Selectman] Fred Camillo, [BET minority caucus leader] Leslie Moriarty and I will start this and get this dialogue running on a regular basis,” Mason said.

Update on Fire Study

Mason gave an update on the town fire study, which the BET budgeted money for last year. The fire study aims to look at town-wide response times. More specifically, there has been concern for years about response times in the northwest part of town.

“I believe the fire study is in its final stages,” Mason said on Tuesday. He said that a report will be shared with emergency safety personnel leadership this week during a subcommittee meeting. Matrix, the group conducting the study, will likely offer the town a list of suggestions to look at, and allow for feedback.

“I think it’s perfect timing with our new fire chief coming on board. Once we get done with that, my hope is to send [the study] to the full BET as a draft. The BET would accept it, it becomes public and will be on our webpage and everyone can review it,” Mason said.