Warner: Greenwich Budget Winners and Losers

Letter to the editor submitted by Mike Warner, RTM district 7

Greenwich residents already know they live on a priceless piece of real estate, with a reputation as a wealthy shoreline community with leafy suburban enclaves, nature sanctuaries, great shopping, and only a short commute to a vibrant world capital city.

But our residents also know just living in a great location isn’t enough. They know that to maintain a successful brand, Greenwich also needs to function as a competent small city, providing necessary services for all of our citizens who (unlike other more homogeneous Gold Coast towns), represent a wide range of income and economic circumstances, with some residents struggling to make ends meet.

In response, the town has always provided broad-based services that lift everyone. Often supported by citizen volunteers, these programs conveyed that we in Greenwich are one town, one brand and by lifting everyone we set a standard from which we all benefit and can be proud.

So, it’s surprising that for the first time in memory, Republican town leaders have passed a wholly partisan budget that unapologetically picks winners and losers. It is a budget that provides a tax cut – benefiting the town’s wealthiest citizens most – and pays for that tax cut by reducing services for everyone else. This includes reducing support of our public schools that are so important to working families and the reputation of our town.

The zany logic behind these service cuts is breathtaking. It goes like this: Because the pandemic will decrease town revenues from minor income items – such as property transfers, building permit applications, beach cards and the like – your BET must make the shortfall in town revenues even worse by reducing the mill rate (income to the town), and forcing budget cuts to schools and other services to pay for those income reductions the BET created. Oh, and those record cash reserves we have on hand in our
“rainy day fund”? We can’t use that available cash to bridge the temporary shortfall in town revenues, because we might need it for something really important. Say what?

Driven mostly by ideologues obsessed with reducing the size of government (and using the pandemic as cover), this budget will give citizens more potholes in our roadways and, incredibly, now require citizens to pay for an annual permit to drop something off at the Holly Hill recycling center. Fixated with reducing the mill rate, the BET shamelessly eliminated the entire budget line item for municipal solid waste, shifting the cost off the town’s books, now to be paid directly out of taxpayers’ pockets. This short-sighted thinking could mean that many citizens just won’t bother to apply for an annual permit at all, but just drop trash off in a vacant parking area, by the roadside or in a vacant lot.

This reckless fixation with reducing the mill rate also jeopardizes the quality and reputation of Greenwich schools and our brand. This is no surprise; the BET has been starving our public schools for decades. Just look at our average school, built in 1953.

What these small-government activists don’t understand is that picking winners and losers is a fool’s game. Sure, you can degrade town services incrementally by requiring us to live with more potholes, but when you issue a budget that favors a particular group and degrades the broad-based services important to everyone else, services that unify our town, educate our children and support our brand, then we all lose.