Letter: Where’s the bi-partisanship at the BET?

Letter to the editor submitted by Mike Warner, April 17, 2018

In a recent letter to the editor, (Priorities for the Town Budget) BET Republicans disregarded decades of BET bipartisanship by publicly warning citizens – and by extension, our RTM delegates – that because “Greenwich taxpayers are facing increasing state and federal income tax pressures… our town can no longer conduct business as usual.”

Putting aside the dubious logic of this assertion, i.e. it’s exactly because Greenwich provides capable and responsive Town services, (“business as usual”) that our mill rate remains low and living in Greenwich so desirable. Previously, when Republicans were in control, they had been scrupulously silent after doing their work of scrubbing the Town budget. Now, not so much.

What’s surprising is, that for the first time in memory BET Republicans, having lost control of the BET, appear to be overreacting to their loss; first by publicly pushing a partisan agenda before the RTM even considers the issues and votes on them. Then, by holding the Town Budget hostage, refusing to allow it to go forward, if they didn’t get their way on keeping the Town’s antiquated Debt Policy.

Even more puzzling, is why the Republican caucus having just told us that “our Town can no longer conduct business as usual,” would threaten to hold up the Town budget and affect the welfare of its citizens over such a hard-to-defend Debt Policy, long discarded by other Towns on Connecticut’s Gold Coast and around the country.

This Debt Policy inexplicably limits Town borrowing to an arbitrary 5 years, requires three risky forays into a shifting debt market for each project financed and results in artificially high debt pay-off burdens for today’s taxpayers. The result is that the Town is forced to “slow-roll” borrowing for capital projects and can’t make timely investments it sorely needs.

In essence, Greenwich has become a caricature of the classic shortsighted miser who boasts always paying cash and never borrowing from a bank, but because of his myopic aversion to loans, drives a 30-year-old car that continually breaks down and who lives in a house with a leaky roof. Sound familiar, think Old Greenwich Civic Center, the Havemeyer Building on Greenwich Avenue or our underground infrastructure which fails on a regular basis.

Before the next Town elections, we can only hope that BET Democrats will find a way to finally produce a fair municipal debt policy that unburdens today’s taxpayers from having to pay now, (in the next 5 to 7 years) for a school that will be used by future taxpayers for the next 40 years. Other municipalities learned long ago that it should be those who use a school or other capital project, over its “useful life” who should pay for it. (In Connecticut borrowing is limited to 20 years by statute.)

It’s clear we need a modern, flexible debt policy that matches the “useful life” of capital assets with the terms of bond issues. It will save today’s taxpayers millions and as our capital financing needs grow, and borrowing rates rise, we’ll be better prepared to meet the challenge of maintaining modest, predictable and steady tax increases.

One can only hope that the newly elected, more engaged RTM members will recognize these partisan Republican “priorities” for what they are, a desperate attempt to maintain the status quo, and to block any effort at creating more responsive, cost effective government that will keep our mill rate low and repair or replace our crumbling buildings.

To do this we need to replace our antiquated debt policy, so a world-class community like Greenwich isn’t driving a 30-year old car and living with a leaky roof.