WEISBROD: Republican BET: “I alone can fix it”

By David Weisbrod, Democratic member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET)

The politicians who rammed through this year’s town budget aren’t the thoughtful Republicans you think they are.

On Tuesday, the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) met to vote on the town’s budget. At one point, the Republican chairman moved to eliminate funding for an innocuous-sounding police maintenance system. But this is actually a vital electronic link between state, town and 911 computers that our police chief needs to keep up, because, he said, it’s “no longer reliable.” Surely there must have been a sound reason for BET Republicans to propose this cut.

Sadly, there wasn’t. The police chief was never consulted – no one bothered to inform him that police tech was about to be defunded until a BET Democrat consulted with him moments before the vote took place. Once the chief weighed in, the ill-advised cut was dropped.

The lesson of this story is that the people who’ve taken control of our town’s finances aren’t who you think they are. For every narrow escape from arbitrary and short-sighted budget cuts proposed by Republicans on the BET, there are dozens of other instances where essential needs have been slashed without analysis or justification.

Why is this happening?
Our system gives the tie-breaking vote on the BET to the party that wins the most votes during the municipal election. Republicans have wielded that power for 98 of the past 100 years. And in the not-so-distant past, the board functioned in a collegial, non-partisan way, achieving compromise and working in the best interests of the town.

But, that Republican BET is no longer with us.

Thoughtful Republicans in town are concerned. They say a new breed has hijacked their party which believes they alone should dictate how our town is run.

And dictate they do.

On Tuesday night, for the second year in a row, the BET Republicans rammed through their budget without a single Democratic vote, using their tie-breaking vote to override 27 items and block 12 others, in many cases willfully ignoring the requests of the Republican First Selectman and the bipartisan Board of Education, our other town officials also elected by voters.

While their attempt to defund critical maintenance of our police computer system was fortunately rebuffed, our children were not so lucky.

Let us tell you how to do your job
Hundreds of parents – Republican and Democratic – turned out last week for the budget public hearing to implore the BET to fully fund the Board of Education’s (BOE) requests for Central Middle School and Old Greenwich School (OGS). But it appears the Republican BET only had ears for the wishes of the hyper-partisan Republican Town Committee.

They rejected the Board of Ed’s request for $85.5 million for a new Central Middle School, as well as the First Selectman’s reduced request for $75.2 million for the school. Instead, they lowballed everyone, sending the Board of Ed back to the drawing board, instructing them to build a smaller school that would come in at $67.5 million, a process that will delay the start of construction for another year.

In a cynical move, BET Republicans approved their own patchwork plan to provide $1.5 million for an elevator and to address the horrific sewage issues at (OGS).

No one should be fooled by this ploy which is insufficient to remedy OGS’s ADA non-compliance, outdated security, and lack of an air circulation system.

This Republican “rescue plan” will likely delay the start of construction at OGS by two years, and pile on cost as well.

We know that the parents who turned out to plead for their neighborhood schools will not be easily fooled. It is another case of papering over rather than rectifying the needs of this 121 year-old, much beloved school.

It’s often said that budgets reflect values. It’s not that we can’t fund essential projects for our town, it’s that BET Republicans don’t value them. This strategy is shortsighted – and expensive – we just pay more later and suffer the consequences in the meantime. We, as BET Democrats, believe that Greenwich deserves better.