RTM was Denied the Opportunity to Vote on a Prudent FY24 Budget

Submitted by BET Democrats, Laura Erickson, Leslie Moriarty, Miriam Kreuzer, Jeff Ramer, Stephen Selbst and David Weisbrod

On Monday May 8, the RTM approved the FY24 Budget after cutting the Hamill Rink appropriation of $950,000. The budget was labeled as “prudent” in the BET Chair’s message, but let’s be direct. This budget underfunds major school construction projects, does not address ADA compliance appropriately, increases both costs and risk plus other items which just don’t make sense.

Here’s a recap, in buckets, of BET Decision Day on April 4, a marathon session with numerous split votes, about 40 of which were decided on party lines.

Bucket 1: Major School Projects Not Fully Funded

This is the key differentiator and the principal reason BET Democrats voted against this budget on BET Decision Day.

Our motion to fully fund the Central Middle School replacement project was defeated. Our second motion to maintain the funding as presented in the First Selectman’s budget with a host of conditions was defeated. The Republicans approach was to cut the funding to $67.5 million and demand that the BOE build a school of 100,000 sq.ft. Greenwich hasn’t built a middle school since the Eisenhower era so we should do it right the first time.

There was no funding for the Old Greenwich renovation project in the First Selectman’s budget due to the Republicans “one school at a time approach.” The OG Building Committee has stated it will be ready to file with the State by the June 30 th deadline and we made a motion to fully fund construction, with conditions. This motion was defeated. A motion to include $1.1 million for the OG BC to continue its work was tweaked with conditions and approved.

As it stands now, unless the BET Republicans acquiesce to fund the full construction budget for the bipartisan BOE approved ed specs for a 125,000 gross sq.ft. building for CMS (which will require action on an interim request at the June RTM meeting), the project won’t be able to meet the requirements to file with the State.

Bucket 2: ADA Compliance at CMS, Old Greenwich and Riverside, and OG Sewage Not Addressed Appropriately

The Democrats believe in funding the construction projects at CMS and OG and the feasibility study at Riverside (motioned & defeated) to address all the issues of ADA Compliance, Security and Safety, Air Quality and the yucky sewage problem at OG when tidal and storm conditions create a backflow into below grade classrooms at OG School. There is no quick fix; it must be done properly.

The Republicans approved funds for interim projects for ADA and the Sewage problem at OG with no consultation with professionals, and they slid in some funds for ADA at Riverside. This patchwork approach does not meet all the standards for ADA compliance, is not cost effective and why do they think they know better than experts on how to resolve the issues?

Bucket 3: Failure to Fund Basic Maintenance

The Fire Training Center was cut to fund only the inspection/report, but not the needed repairs. The Police Audio/Visual equipment replacement used in training conference rooms and not functioning properly was eliminated. DPW Highway Maintenance and Asphalt Paving was cut by $250K each even though these funds are needed to fix streets, sidewalks and curbing and to repave streets to maintain a standard rating. On Schools, Hamilton Ave. HVAC replacement system was removed, the GHS Cellular Project deferred and the Plumbing and Electrical category was slashed 67% for no good reason. The Cos Cob Library, built over twenty years ago, had its capital project removed on the false premise that it was tied to an independent improvement project being financed with private funding.

Bucket 4: Failure to Replace of Assets at the End of their Useful Life

The Fire Pumper circa 2004 was eliminated because the Republicans said they could only fund one fire apparatus and that was the Fire Ladder. This, despite the fact we have not consistently funded the one apparatus per year timeline and we have information that it is going to take at least two years for delivery of the Fire Pumper. The Police request to replace an aged Mobile Command Post truck with a command post trailer which could be attached to other vehicles was denied. The cost of a $30K golf cart used for security at GHS to replace one purchased in 2010 was axed because there weren’t enough reported mechanical issues. Park equipment on a regular replacement schedule was nickel and dimed out. Is the new plan to wait until things fall apart before we replace them? Older vehicles cost more money to repair and maintain.

Bucket 5: Failure to Manage Risk Appropriately

The request to repair curbing, sidewalks and to repave the GHS parking lot near Fields 6 & 7 was denied on the premise that this can wait until after the soils project and GHS Security Vestibule, despite being told this is a discrete project and the area is in terrible condition. The Bruce Museum retaining wall project was eliminated in lieu of our suggestion to expend a small amount of funds to get an inspection and report on which we could then responsibly act. The Greenwich Library elevator, operating with motors from the 1940s, was deferred for the second year, despite reports of entrapments and lurching. The Tree Risk Program, lauded by our insurance company as a model program, was cut. The Ferry Dock Upgrades and Improvements item to upgrade 30 year old infrastructure to provide safe passage and storm protection was stripped out. We know where this all leads – more risk equals higher insurance premiums and more exposure to claims.

Bucket 6: Miscellaneous

The pickleball courts were cut by $100K on the basis of a comparable with a private country club in Greenwich. The information provided by the Parks & Recreation department was completely ignored. The decades old plan to optimize the Holly Hill site was shelved again.

Nonsensically, the funding needed for the trees required by P&Z for Cardinal Stadium was gutted, jeopardizing receipt of the final Certificate of Occupancy. The replacement of end of useful life parking meters on Greenwich Ave. was eliminated on the assumption that everyone should use their smartphone to “text to park” despite a very detailed memo from Parking Services explaining the rationale for replacement.

This budget underfunds key initiatives and increases operating risk. It kicks too many cans down the road. BET Democrats tried but were not able to influence the outcome due to the tie breaking vote exercised by the Chair.

Unfortunately, to the detriment of the Town, the RTM did not even have the opportunity to discuss, debate and decide on important issues.

The six BET Republicans made those decisions for everyone, and the result is that the budget transmitted to the RTM for approval was anything but prudent.

Laura Erickson, Leslie Moriarty, Miriam Kreuzer, Jeff Ramer, Stephen Selbst and David Weisbrod