Greenwich BET passes $465m budget plan with ‘significant capital investment in schools’

GREENWICH — As part of the municipal budget approved by the Board of Estimate & Taxation, the city may reduce its per-mile rate by 2.65 per cent.

The proposed budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which begins July 1, totals $465,105,871. It was passed late Tuesday evening by the BET and now goes to the representative municipal assembly for the final vote on May 9.

The BET vote, which came after a nearly 1 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall, was split along party lines but was free from the partisan anger that has been seen in some budget votes previous.

BET’s six majority Republicans voted in favor of the budget, but the six Democrats voted against, saying it didn’t go far enough in planning for the city’s future. BET President Dan Ozizmir used his deciding vote to pass the budget, 7-6.

“Budgets represent values,” Ozizmir told the meeting. “Budgets represent choices. I can say for myself and I think for the rest of my caucus that we voted for this budget because of what it achieved.

He praised what the budget accomplished, including allocating $2.5 million to begin work on a new Central Middle School, which became a top priority after the school was closed in February by problems. structural; and $1 million for architectural and engineering work at Old Greenwich School, which has accessibility and flooding issues from the ADA.

Infrastructure and public safety projects, including pedestrian safety improvements in Byram and sidewalks in Old Greenwich, are also included in the budget plan.

“We have just started the largest capital investment in schools that we have seen in history or for many years,” Ozizmir said. “I think we hit a stalemate with the BET and Board of Ed not speaking to each other. I have to say we have made great strides in coming up with a plan that accelerates Central Middle School and gets Old Greenwich going and addresses Julian Curtiss’ immediate concerns. Clearly there hasn’t been as much discussion and communication as we would all like, but the fact is that we have.

“We are moving forward,” he said.

With federal funds from the U.S. bailout as well as money included in the municipal budget, Ozizmir said there would be more than $85 million in capital investment in the city, which he said was the highest amount in Greenwich history.

Democratic objections

But after the vote, BET member Leslie Moriarty, chair of the Democratic caucus, pointed to two votes for the lack of Democratic support for the budget. There was no Republican support for Democratic motions to expand the use of long-term financing and add $2 million to the capital tax for future projects, she said.

“We’re not surprised by the result, but we’re definitely disappointed,” Moriarty said. “It’s mainly because this council missed an opportunity to properly plan for the city’s future capital needs. The budget includes significant investments, but we voted against it mainly for what it does not include. This does not improve the city’s ability to invest in needed infrastructure and improvement projects.

There has been too much postponement of projects, she said, which has put the city in its current position of addressing many areas that need attention at once. She said the plan was just to “throw the box on the road”.

“It shouldn’t take construction failures like Central Middle School or North Mianus School to get this board’s attention,” Moriarty said. “Managing for the bottom line has left us with schools that don’t meet today’s facility or education standards; recreational facilities that are lacking compared to other communities, both in number and quality of playgrounds; lack of safe cycle paths; and a crumbling skating rink. This council must find better solutions and a better balance.

Areas of disagreement

The BET disagreed on several items in the budget, particularly regarding the Julian Curtiss School.

Democrats favored the full $1.5 million requested by the Board of Education to cover architectural and engineering work to renovate and expand the school. But Republicans voted to cut it due to concerns over expansion plans and declining enrollment. Instead, Republicans supported funding parts of the project, including HVAC and accessibility improvements.

The biggest disagreement was over the future of capital projects and how to fund them.

BET Democrat David Weisbrod introduced a motion, which did not receive Republican support, for long-term funding covering $12.5 million for soil remediation at Greenwich High School, $8 million for Western Middle School and $2.5 million for Central Middle School.

Without taking those steps, Weisbrod said he fears BET’s policies and funding limits could crowd out future capital projects. It would be “unsustainable, unachievable and does not reflect the interests of the community or the things that both parties have advocated for”, particularly schools and a new ice rink, he said.

“Very, very important projects might not get done,” Weisbrod said.

Some Republicans expressed interest in the proposal, but none voted for it.

“I said what we’re doing now seems to be working, but there may be a time when it doesn’t work and it’s in the interest of the city and the taxpayers to do something else,” the Republican told BET Michael Basham. Next year, he said, the city may need to fund up to $170 million worth of projects.

Ozizmir promised that the BET would hold discussions this year on the balance of funds policy, debt and the planning process for the newly reinstated capital improvement project with first coach Fred Camillo.

“I don’t think anyone should think that this board doesn’t think very seriously about these issues,” he said.

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