Swomley: Singular Focus on Mill Rate is Misplaced

Letter to the editor submitted by Joanna Swomley, Greenwich, May 13, 2018

Greenwich is a beautiful town that requires upkeep and maintenance. But there is an unfortunate undercurrent that threatens this beauty. The laser-like focus on the town’s mill (tax) rate misses the bigger picture: in order to maintain Greenwich, we must take care of it now and not cut corners so that we end up having to pay more in the future to remedy issues that we didn’t bother to take care of at the outset.
At the Representative Town Meeting this coming Monday, a motion will be made to invade the Town’s Capital Fund in the amount of $3 million solely in order to cut the mill rate from 11.369 to 11.277. Putting aside the fact that a surplus is mandated by state law, our predecessors created a surplus for a reason — for emergencies and special needs. (Had they wanted to use any excess to lower taxes, they could have so provided.)
Greenwich has contingent liabilities and special needs. Our town faces lawsuits with unknown outcomes and potential awards. We have schools and a civic center in disrepair. We all know the state of our Town fields and that they may be hazardous to our children. Our traffic problems are obvious. We have cut school programs. For those advocating “fiscal freedom” and focusing solely on the mill rate, I urge you to recognize that there is another side to the equation—having a reserve for contingencies as well as things our town needs to enhance its schools, buildings, fields, traffic. Are we taking this into account or we ignoring them to reduce the mill rate by .092 just so we can say we lowered taxes?
We are struggling to attract businesses and younger residents and what holds us back is not our mill rate. Greenwich already has the lowest mill rate in the state and Westchester taxes are notoriously high and yet young people are abundant there. What will attract businesses and younger residents is the offer of top flight schools, buildings, parks and resources. We do not need or want Westchester rates — but we do need a reasonable balance between taxes and expenditures. Where that balance (and the fund balance) lies is important to our Town and a healthy debate is welcome. I intend to listen to any facts and arguments with open ears and cast an informed vote on the matter, but the sole focus should not and cannot be driven by considering only one side of the equation.
Finally, on Monday, in addition to taking into account a balance of equities as it were, I hope the debate will be civil. Resort to labeling, name calling, and partisan politics, as does the letter published on May 12 from the Fiscal Freedom of CT group, is not helpful and I hope said group refrains from such attacks on the floor and in the future. Reasonable minds can differ irrespective of party (or no party) affiliation.