Letter to the editor submitted by Karen Fassuliotis, RTM District 7. (The views expressed here are her own.)
On Monday night, May 9, 2016, a remarkable thing happened at the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting (RTM).
The body voted to actually delete funds from the proposed 2016-2017 increased expenditures that were approved by the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET). When considering a Town budget of approximately $500 million (a total spending increase of 9.8% over 2015-2016, by the way), the RTM deletions were minimal. Of the budget items deleted, a mere $609,631 was taken from the Town’s operating budget (with no reduction to the Town’s education budget or The Nathaniel Witherell), two capital projects were eliminated ($390,000 from a project that would have changed the way pedestrians maneuver crossing the Post Road in Cos Cob and $2.5 million for the Northwest Fire Station) and one project was reduced ($300,000 was taken from the Eastern Civic Center project).
However, the fact that the RTM actually deleted funds from the budget for the first time in years was a major shift in how this body has acted on Town spending.
It is curious, and something that has not gone unnoticed, that some of our Town leaders are now focusing their conversation on how “unfair” the process was, how the RTM was not thoughtful in the reductions they made (which was clearly not the case) and even possibly having a referendum to vote on the Northwest Fire Station. In the past, when things have gone their way (MISA, Byram Pool and other spending) our Town leaders have stated that the RTM represents the will of the people of Greenwich and the people have spoken.
With the Monday night reduction, that mantra has now become “the process wasn’t fair.” It certainly is baffling given that the vote to reject the purchase of the Fairview Golf Course property for a fire station was overwhelmingly against that appropriation.
Perhaps instead of complaining, our Town leaders, going forward, should start focusing their conversation on how our Town will begin to curtail the rate of spending. And while the vote to reduce the operating budget was very close, it is clear that over half of the RTM members present clearly rejected the increase in spending that has become the “way of life” in Greenwich politics. The RTM spoke. We need to change our Town’s spending habits. It is that simple.
The fact of the matter is that people in Greenwich are concerned about their taxes and the additional strain that is being put on family finances. In Central Greenwich, many property assessments have increased an average of twenty five percent. Add that to the mill rate increase and these folks will be seeing a whopping tax increase. Some members of both political parties have privately stated, if you can’t afford the taxes in Greenwich you can always move. That is clearly not what the “solution” is, nor should it be. We need to start controlling our Town’s spending without sacrificing services, as has been threatened by members in Town Hall.
There can be innovative ways that can accomplish increasing productivity without increasing costs. And if the problem really is in controlling our “fixed costs” then we should start there.
Our Town will be negotiating many union contracts in the upcoming months. The First Selectman must be a leader and start insisting on contracts shifting benefits to defined contributions to our police and fire unions and looking at how other Towns have been able to achieve substantial cost savings. The RTM Labor Contracts Committee should be steadfast in calling for major contract changes and be firm that headcount will likely be reduced without it.
The RTM should reject any contract that does not have these changes or other significant reform, such as active and retiree health care benefits.
The RTM vote was not a vote that will drastically change the amount of taxes we will pay in the 2016-2017 fiscal year. However, the RTM vote was a clear message to our Town leaders that it cannot and should not be “business as usual.” Hopefully they will start to listen.
Karen Fassuliotis is a RTM District 7 representative. The views expressed here are her own.