BET CHAIR: There is a Process for Approving Capital Funds

Submitted by Michael Mason, Chair, Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation

There was a recent opinion letter (Bernstein, Stowe: A promise to fully fund is not the same as fully funding April 19, 2021) about the appropriation approved by the BET for the repairs at North Mianus School in which the authors stated that the BET has approved capital funds without the information that is being asked for the North Mianus School. Unfortunately, what was quoted was misleading at best. Here’s why.

Emergency repairs of South Stanwich Road which crosses over the Aquarion reservoir.  

  • Contrary to what was stated, the material submitted to the BET included detailed engineering drawings plus detailed cost estimates (A link to the documents considered by the BET on November 16, 2020 is included for your reference)
    BET Regular Meeting Webinar Packet_11-16-2020 (
  • Due to some gaps in design information and water level predictions, there was a greater contingency granted in this request but the bottom line is that the monies requested were based on detailed engineering drawings and cost estimates.

MISA Appropriation for Failed Heating Pipes – December 12, 2018 Incident

  • This project did not require A&E drawings or any land use approvals.
  • The interim appropriation was for the costs for response to the emergency and replacement of systems and equipment damaged by the flood
  • The interim appropriation was similar to what was approved by the BET for the first phase of the North Mianus School repairs

Julian Curtiss Roof Replacement

  • On July 27, 2018, a special meeting of the BET was held to approve additional monies that were requested by the BOE for the Julian Curtiss roof replacement financial shortfall.
  • The BOE had contracted for a series of roof replacements and had begun the JC roof last without having the total appropriation for the project in place.
  • The BET, and ultimately the RTM (in a special meeting) approved the interim appropriation to complete the project

Cos Cob School Flooding

  • On October 19, 2018 a special meeting of the BET was held to consider an interim appropriation for the Cos Cob School which flooded after a defective faucet flooded several rooms.
  • The BOE had funds to initiate the cleanup and repairs of the school.
  • The interim appropriation was based on a budget supplied by a contractor selected from the State’s list of preferred vendors.
  • The monies requested covered the cost to complete the remediation project.
  • Preventative construction was not part of the request.

The process followed by the BET for the North Mianus School project is consistent with the process followed for all of the emergency appropriations cited by the authors. In fact, the BET held two special meetings to accommodate the BOE requests in a timely manner. The BET has always been responsive to the BOE and all other Town departments with any emergency appropriations.

What Would Have Been Wrong with Conditioning What the BOE Requested?

  • A condition, also known as a subject to release, estimate, is used to assure the BET that certain thresholds in the process have been met, or land use approvals have been achieved in advance of funding, per the Town Charter.
  • The RTM can not remove a subject to release.
  • If a condition was added the RTM would not have any opportunity for a review.
  • For the North Mianus project the additional $6 million requested was a “drive by” estimate based on an estimated cost per estimated square footage – while the amount is recognized as an industry standard for Fairfield County it is not based on what the project will actual entail. It is simply an un engineered estimate, nothing more.
  • The estimate would not guarantee that the BOE would have to come back for an additional appropriation if the project came in at a higher cost.
  • It is not fiscally prudent to ask for bids after the total cost was appropriated – practically speaking, you wouldn’t tell a contractor what you will be willing to pay before he had a chance to offer an estimate as to what they felt it would cost to do the repairs.
  • Putting out approved levels of spending ahead of any qualified estimates or bids can only work against the Town when negotiating contracts.

The BET stands ready and willing to meet in a timely manner once the scope and costs of the North Mianus project are known.

This terrible incident could not happen at a worse time. COVID has been so difficult on everyone and the impacts to education are enormous and unfortunate. Our community will overcome these times and rebound even stronger.