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Column by Fred Camillo: Greenwich’s Budget Priorities

By Fred Camillo

Budget season is now upon us and last week I presented the First Selectman’s budget proposal to the Board of Estimate and Taxation’s Budget Committee. This is nowhere near being the final product that will go before the Representative Town Meeting in May for a final vote, but it represents my vision for the town and the year ahead.
I have made it a priority to fund vital town services like police, fire, education, public works, parks and recreation, emergency services, human services, health, law, IT, and human resources and to do this all in in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

Capital Budget

In 2022, I stated that the 15-year Capital Improvement Program process was broken. With a rapidly changing list of priorities, we changed it to a five-year CIP because while we continue to look at the long-term view of our Town, we must focus on what is relevant, doable, and fairly predictable. We have found that going beyond five years doesn’t allow us to factor in the unpredictability that we face when creating a municipal budget.

The $400 million five-year capital project addresses projects that are important to the residents of our town, including new and renovated schools, an ice rink and a new waterfront that offers views of Greenwich Harbor not seen since the 1950s. People move to Greenwich for many reasons like our great schools, wonderful amenities, beautiful parks and beaches, close proximity to NYC, a well-run government, and low taxes. This budget reflects those attributes and attractions.

I added $10 million to the fiscal year 2024 capital budget for field remediation at Western Middle School because this is a long overdue remediation project that now has an end in sight. The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection visited Greenwich on Jan. 11 and offered optimism for a plan to get a remediation bid by May to be followed by a contract in June. Two full sets of classes at Western have never set foot on their home fields and student athletes have needed to be bussed around town to play sports for six years. That is unacceptable and it’s why I added the money to the budget. We need to get this project across home plate.

Operating Budget

My proposed operating budget is one that offers additional services and a steady mill rate equal to 2022. The Town is taking proactive steps when it comes to our schools and public safety. Organized police patrols for each school will continue with an ongoing eye toward better efficiency in the years to come. Our schools, as with all public buildings and venues, will remain a top safety priority.

We have seen the most citizen feedback in regard to the Sewer Division of the Department of Public Works. That is primarily due to an ever-increasing workload. So we allocated money to add a full-time position there to help deliver more timely service to our residents and their contractors. But even with this addition, my budget proposal has no new full-time positions in the Town’s general fund.

I also want to highlight the committee I empaneled a few months ago to look at the future use of the Havemeyer Building. This edifice is located in the heart of our business and entertainment district and the land and building are valued at more than $100 million. It is in desperate need of a complete renovation. We can no longer accept the condition and continued deterioration of a valuable Town asset while housing a government entity in a space that is too big for them and not even needed at that location.
There are many ideas for future uses of the Havemeyer property that would benefit Town residents and visitors for decades to come as well as improve the appearance of that part of Greenwich Avenue. The committee is already hard at work looking at what the Board of Education actually needs in terms of space, what will be needed to renovate the building, what possible future uses there could be through public-private partnerships, and what the opportunity cost is to the Town to have the BOE there.
Envisioning what could be at this location is exciting, but it will take a lot of thought, input, research, and vision.

We are working diligently to continue the low mill rate enjoyed by our residents while marrying our Town’s wonderful traditions with a new and exciting future that puts public safety, education, and an active lifestyle with our parks, beaches, and athletic facilities at the forefront of all our planning and operations.

The proposed budget aims to keep Greenwich being Greenwich while insuring it will always be a wonderful place to both live and retire in!

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