RAMER: Mason is mistaken. Emergency appropriations have been approved on tentative estimates.

Submitted by Jeff Ramer, Democratic member of the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation

I am compelled to respond to inaccuracies in the letter of April 21 st of Michael Mason, the Republican chair of the Board of Estimate and Taxation. (BET CHAIR: There is a Process for Approving Capital Funds, April 21, 2021)

By refusing to approve the $6M needed to reconstruct and reopen North Mianus School, the Project will require another meeting of the BET to appropriate that funding, and a meeting of the RTM to do the same. Meeting attendance of town bodies can be challenging, particularly as we drift toward summer. There are minimum quorum requirements for valid meetings (Charter sec. 173), and if bonding is required to fund the Project, there are minimum vote requirements that are calculated upon the full membership of the body (Charter sec. 17).

Without the appropriation, the Project will not issue RFP’s and assemble bids. Sources of supply of essential materials in a COVID economy cannot be identified and pinned down. Maybe all that can nevertheless be accomplished without delay in the reopening of the School. Maybe it can’t. The risk was unnecessary.

In his letter dated April 21, 2021, Mr. Mason wrongly states that “the process followed by the BET for the North Mianus School project is consistent with the process followed for all emergency appropriations”, that process allegedly being to fund only “once the scope and costs of the North Mianus project are known”.

He is mistaken. That was decidedly not the normal process of the BET. Mr. Mason cites examples. A more careful look at his examples is instructive:

  1. On November 16, 2020, an emergency repair to the failing Causeway across the reservoir at South Stanwich Road came before the BET as item PW-2 for $2.5M of funding. Like the emergency funding request for North Mianus School, the application was supported by an engineering report and by a cost estimate from the department making the funding request. No bids yet from any outside vendor. No final figures. Mr. Mason claims that the Causeway was different because in his view the figures represented “detailed cost estimates”. Actually, however, the Causeway application itself was a little more candid, conceding in the application text that the figures were only a “conceptual cost estimate”, and that the figures were “still under review and refinement.” It conceded further that the application is “still a work in progress and design details (e.g. dimensions) may be adjusted as work continues”. The paperwork is on the website, a public record. The appropriation was approved on tentative estimates.
  1. Mr. Mason’s letter also refers to the emergency repair of the flooding resulting from a failed plumbing coupling at the High School. Those application papers too are a part of the public record on the website for the BET meeting of January 22, 2019, item ED-9. They consist of nothing more than a page and a half of simple narrative from the Board of Ed. No quotes,
    no bids. Considerably less detail was provided than the full engineering report and industry standard figures before the BET on North Mianus School.
  2. Mr. Mason’s letter then refers to the $1.9M of emergency funding for the flooding at the Cos Cob School. The supporting documentation there was a simple one-page narrative from the Board of Ed. That application too is a part of the public record on the website as the materials before the BET at its meeting of October 19, 2018, Item ED-6. No bids. No detail.
  3. Consider also the appropriation for the new Byram Park Pool. It came before the BET at the annual Budget meeting on March 19, 2015. The appropriation was a very considerable $9.5M, and it was approved with little more before us than a verbal concept. Of course, the approval was given with conditions on the release of funds, in exactly the same way as the School Board has been suggesting conditions on the release of the North Mianus funds. The staged release of the $9.5M of funds for the Byram Pool was: (a) $40,000 released immediately to start the design; (b) $1,600,000 to be released upon BET approval of the design; (c) $300,000
    released upon BET approval of plans 90% completed; and (d) the last $7,560,000 of construction money released upon BET approval of final bids, etc.

If these examples were intended to show a BET policy of not approving appropriations for work until final bids or other final details of projects are fully available, then it should be noted that they show the opposite.

The Republican majority on the BET think that the competitive bidders on the North Mianus School Project are somehow unaware of the past weeks of very public dialogue about the $8.1M Project figure, but would have become aware if the Republican majority had voted differently. They fear a collusion among the competitive bidders, resulting in a higher cost. Farfetched, but important to them.

Delay in getting the children back in School apparently was not.
What is certain is that this was a departure from BET normal process, and the risk of delay was wholly unnecessary. The $8.1M should have been approved, albeit with the release of funds conditioned upon BET approval of the bids – bids that the Board of Ed could have been assembling in the interim. We could still do that now.

Jeff Ramer