Updates from the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation
By: Richard Kaufman
The Greenwich Sentinel brings 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 Approves Budget Guidelines
The Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation unanimously approved guidelines for the 2021-2022 budget last week. They were previously crafted and approved by the four-person BET Budget Committee.
“There was a lot of collaboration and cooperation amongst the four budget committee members in order to come to this agreement,” said BET Budget Committee Chair, Leslie Tarkington.
The guidelines, which are non-binding, project the next town budget to be at $460 million, up from $448 from the current fiscal year, with a 1.74 percent increase in the mill rate.
Based on information available at this time, the estimated budget anticipates operating costs for the Town of Greenwich to increase by 2.48%. Allocating all employee benefit costs, the operating budget for the Town would increase by 2.92%, and the Board of Education/Greenwich Public Schools operational spending would increase by 4.2%.
The capital budget is forecasted at $55 million. It consists of prioritized projects to cover required annual maintenance expenses, remediation, and a few improvement projects.
With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, BET Chair Michael Mason said the board and town is hoping for some semblance of normalcy to return in the future.
“We are hoping for normalcy, although [we will see] what normalcy will be after this pandemic and the next year or so and how everything operates — whether it’s capital projects, how schools are operated, or how town hall is operated,” Mason said.
Mason added that in February, when the budget process really kicks into gear and hearings begin, the board needs to be cautious in making decisions.
“When February comes, these conversations will be challenging and difficult. I just hope we continue to gather information between now and then,” he said.
BET Vice Chair Karen Fassuliotis said the budget guidelines represent the fact that there are a lot of unknowns and challenges ahead because of the pandemic and its impact.
“The document we have before us recognizes that we have a lot of unknowns going forward. There is a lot of uncertainty with respect to COVID,” she said. “We don’t know whether we’ll have another shutdown. We don’t know what services will be affected going forward. There may be more need for some services, less need for other services. All of that is going to be discussed as we go into the next budget year.”
Several BET members voiced concerns about the guidelines.
Democratic member, Beth Krumeich, mentioned the town’s study of special education services, and her concerns with special education. She cited a recent complaint filed to the state from a group of parents in town who feel the school district has not supported special education students, and is violating state and federal regulations.
“I know we did place money in the budget this past year to ensure there is a consultant looking at this area very carefully,” Krumeich said. “My concern is that we reflect that this is an area where the expenses are growing, and we may not have allowed for that in the guidelines in a way that gives the Board of Education the sense that we will support them if they need to increase this area.”
According to the guidelines, the “Board of Education/Schools should present details of special education costs, and an update on the Special Education study, including potential budget impacts not reflected in the Estimate Budget, if available” during the budget process.
BET Member Miriam Kreuzer said she had concerns about the capital side of the budget.
“This is one area that still certainly concerns me, partly because if I look at the various projects that we put on hold last year, and the addition of those in the pipeline originally for this year, that’s a lot of wood to chop, and we know maintenance is of the utmost importance,” she said.
Mason said that more needs to be done with capital projects and that he’s in favor of returning to long-range planning and the Capital Improvement Program (CIP).
“I relied heavily for years on the CIP plan where a resident can see a project, watch it make progress, watch it get funded and it goes through. I don’t see that, and I’m going to have a very different stance in February if we don’t return to the CIP process. I think that’s vital,” Mason said. “The 12 of us can pick numbers of what we think an annual spending amount should be, but I want to protect the residents. If their project doesn’t get done this year, maybe it’s the next year, or the year after. I want to get back to that, otherwise we’ll be making arbitrary decisions.”
BET and BET Budget Committee member Leslie Moriarty, who is also the Democratic caucus leader, said the guidelines set up “important conversations” for February when budget hearings take place.
“We need to give guidance to the town departments and to the Board of Education on showing the information of what we know now. The text of the document I think does a better job of highlighting what we don’t know now, and that we are open for the conversation to really understand the operations,” Moriarty said. “At the end of the day, the budget that we approve represents our values; it represents what we try to find – the balance between the cost to provide necessary services, and what those services may be. I think we as a board need to be open to listen to what those needs really are.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Toni Jones will present the school’s budget this month. First Selectman Fred Camillo will present his budget to the BET in January. BET Budget Committee hearings will take place in February, and the Representative Town Meeting has traditionally approved the final budget in May. This year, it was delayed until June because of the pandemic.