Letter: Greenwich’s 1953 Schools Are the Result of Town’s Debt Policy

Letter to the editor submitted by Mike Warner, Past Chair of the RTM Finance Committee

To the editor:

Voters now know that it’s the town’s “Debt Policy” that’s responsible for our failing public-school buildings, which on average were built in 1953. We also know, if Republicans again block any update to this policy at the BET’s “decision meeting” later this month, they could pay a heavy price in November, and November isn’t far away. Tick-tock.

Why? Because this time school parents know that it’s the BET’s debt policy, designed to inhibit investment in our town infrastructure, that’s responsible for the state of our schools. But this time they will be joined by voters who need a northwest firehouse, an Old Greenwich Civic Center and other overdue improvements to our town’s neglected infrastructure. So, if Republicans “stonewall” the BET’s debt policy again, it could have consequences for Republicans in November. It will be the Republican debt policy that’s on the ballot.

The history is interesting. When Democrats won the last election and took control of the BET (for the first time in memory), after a nonpartisan effort of “scrubbing” the budget, at their very first “decision meeting” last March, Republicans threw bipartisanship out the window and threatened to hold up the entire town budget if their slow-growth debt policy wasn’t preserved.

How did BET Democrats respond? Did they overreach, as Democrats often do after winning an election? Not at all. Instead, they chose not to engage in a chaotic food-fight that would have delayed approval of the town budget and harmed many of our citizens. They chose to act with restraint and show us how to govern like adults, ignoring partisanship and performing as reliable, prudent stewards of our town’s resources.

So, what’s this fight about anyway? It’s about a debt policy that inexplicably is designed to inhibit capital investment in our town by punishing today’s taxpayers by requiring them to pay back loans for large “brick and mortar” projects, like schools, in only 5 to 7 years, with the rationale that it will save taxpayers interest cost. This is roughly equivalent to a homeowner not repairing the roof because it will save money.

This obsolete doctrine, long ago abandoned by other “triple-A” rated Gold Coast towns, requires that we, today’s taxpayers, pay now for an improvement that will be used for generations to come – users of that improvement who will pay nothing. Further, as any homeowner knows, spreading payments over a longer term, at a rate “locked-in” for, say 20-years, ensures only a small impact on today’s budgets to keep our infrastructure up to date.

It’s true that the BOE’s well thought out 15-year, $750 million upgrade plan is not on this year’s proposed town budget. But it will be on the docket for next year, and as a result BET working groups have been working to address this problem.

It’s been sad and a little amusing to watch BET Republicans, desperately trying to apply their rigid debt policy to any financing “model,” that would produce the investment needed to upgrade our schools. No matter how tortured their assumptions, or how optimistic their forecasts, they haven’t been able to make the numbers work.

Even so, it’s likely that Republican’s will once again “stonewall” any changes to the town’s debt policy again this month (March 28th). But this time voters in November will know that the Republicans aren’t interested upgrading our schools or building a northwest firehouse or an Old Greenwich Civic Center or much else, and November is just a few months away when we elect a First Selectman. Tick-tock.

Mike Warner
Past Chair of the RTM Finance Committee