Submitted by Brooks Harris
It must be election time! With November approaching, Democrats in Town want to replace the Republican Board of Estimate and Taxation with Democrats. They say the Town is in terrible shape and what we need to make things right is to raise taxes. They do not say that directly (did I mention elections are coming up). They complain that we are not spending enough money on our schools. Since everyone in Town places the highest priority on education (including those cheap old Republicans) this seems like a clever strategy to claim power. While this stratagem may be politically effective, it is deliberately misleading and does not serve us well.
Democrats claim Republicans are underfunding the rebuild of CMS (Central Middle School). This is ironic since when Democrats last controlled the BET they had CMS scheduled for completion in 2032. Their budget had millions spent on CMS HVAC and ADA which would be ripped out and wasted when CMS was eventually torn down and rebuilt. In the meantime, our kids would have to wait for the renovated facilities they deserve. Republicans formulated a plan to bring this construction forward and fast track it so it could get started next year. In order to get this done and complete other important projects like the Old Greenwich renovation, Republicans would have to allocate almost $225 million of capital spending for this year and next. This is by far the largest 2-year spending plan Greenwich has ever made, yet the Democrats accuse Republicans of being miserly.
Perhaps Democrats are upset because only $70 mm has been allocated so far for CMS, and the cost could be higher than this? They forget to mention that in order to move this up into next year’s budget, Republicans agreed to forego the feasibility study usually required for capital projects. This study produces a refined price estimate from the educational specifications and investigates opportunities for value engineering – finding ways to save money while retaining the features our kids and educators need. As you may imagine, without this critical step, there is disagreement about the final cost of the project. Republicans also agreed to fund this project without an architectural plan. We have an estimate of the square footage, but not even a rough layout which would inform the pricing of the project. We do not even know if it will be 2 stories or 2 ½ stories! And yet the Democrats insist more money is needed right now.
Rather than writing a blank check as Democrats would like, Republicans put on a conservative price estimate to start. While it may be easy to write a big check because Greenwich is seen as rich, our residents deserve to have more care with their hard-earned tax dollars. Republicans expect a better price estimate for CMS within the next month which will derive from more refined specifications and plans and will have input from contractors who will actually bid on the project. There will also be some limited time for value engineering if opportunities present themselves. After this sanity check, if the cost comes in higher than the initial appropriation, the Republican BET can seek interim approval for any increase and still keep this project on track.
Republicans are committed to building a beautiful, modern Central Middle School with everything our kids need to thrive. And Republicans are the ones who accelerated this so our kids can enjoy it now.
But Republicans are also committed to being prudent stewards of residents’ tax dollars and get the best value possible. Our kids should not be used as political pawns to exploit a project that everyone is committed to. Election season is coming up, and Democrats want to make CMS a central theme. This works in favor of the Republicans who can show not only are they doing this much faster than Democrats had planned, but they can build a great school while being fiscally responsible. This dual focus serves our community best and affirms the trust the community has placed in its leaders.
Although I am chair of the RTM Finance Committee, these are my personal opinions and not those of the RTM or the Finance Committee.