During a forum for First Selectman candidates at Greenwich Water Club on Thursday, State Rep Fred Camillo (R-151) and Democrat BET chair Jill Oberlander took audience questions.
Camillo focused on funding athletic and infrastructure projects in town through public private partnerships, P-3’s, while Oberlander emphasized the importance of investing in public schools to maintain property values and stave off higher mill rate increases, Camillo noted that four new schools had been built in the last 30 years. (That would be Cos Cob School, Glenville School, Hamilton Avenue School and New Lebanon School.)
As for the Town’s method of funding projects, Camillo said modified pay-as-you-go should be adhered to. “You never want to see Greenwich lose that or we’d end up being like our peer towns – like West Hartford which has a mill rate over 38. Ours is 11.”
“It does not mean turning a blind eye to progress. There are some things that need to be funded. You’ll have to do it in a different way. We’re in a great position here. We have individuals, business and organizations who are willing to partners with the town. Most of the P-3s are philanthropic in nature. We need to embrace and encourage them. Some will be complicated.”
“Less money is going to be coming into our coffers next year in the revaluations. There is going to be a property tax shift from the back country to town. We’ll have to do more with less and look at every single department.” – Fred Camillo, State Rep (R-151), candidate for Greenwich First Selectman
Oberlander who is the first Democratic chair of the BET’s in its history, said that work would inform how she would serve as First Selectman.
“Taxes are a concern if you’re a resident or business owner. On the BET we were able to keep a lower mill rate increase than the last 10 years of Republican rule,” she said, adding that the mill rate is a function of property values, grand list, and expenses.
“You can’t look at mill rates in a vacuum. If your property values decline, your grand list declines. In addition to keeping our mill rate low, we need to keep our property values high.” – Jill Oberlander, BET Chair, Democratic candidate for Greenwich First Selectman
Beth Anrig said she ran the campaign of a Selectman candidate back in 1987, and parking was a campaign issue even then. In fact she said she researched the topic and found that it was the town’s number one problem all the way back to 1948.
Camillo said as part of his vision for a downtown waterfront district that would connect Greenwich Ave to the harbor, he would like to see a second level of parking at the Island Beach lot. He said it could go into grade so it wouldn’t block anything and that it would solve the commuter parking problem downtown. “You could even do a lease P-3 or a regular parking lot. You could do landscaping on top with benches.”
He also suggested creating shuttle services to various parts of town from local churches whose parking lots are not busy during the week, such as St Catherine’s.
Ms. Oberlander said she would undertake a comprehensive inventory of existing parking and demand.
“There are some private lots where people can park that people don’t even know about,” she said, adding that connecting people to downtown with some type of circulator transportation link would allow people to park and get up and down Greenwich Avenue without moving their cars.
Chamber of Commerce VP Ned Barnum brought up the idea of creating two levels of underground parking behind the Havemeyer building and Town Hall, and creating an illuminated sports field over the parking levels.
He said the field could be used for Greenwich High School events.
“It could bring in young people and parents and and contribute to retail because people would go out to eat or shop after an event,” Barnum said.
“I happen to love that idea,” Oberlander said.
“Complicated, right? To access the parking lot, there is a slope, and there are a lot of intricate municipal issues, which I personally love because that is my background. …it is a great idea to talk about and to see where the community as a whole feels about it.”
Camillo said he was also aware of the idea. “Whether it’s a P-3 or a town priority, it could be a multi-purpose field,” he said. “We should have something there. I’d love to see lights there. I know Bolling Place people probably wouldn’t like that, but it would be good for downtown business. We definitely need more parking there I’d align it with some type of shuttle service.”
Cardinal Field at Greenwich High School
On the topic of Cardinal field where an agreement the town entered limits the number of nights illuminated events are allowed, Camillo said he’d played on coached on town fields his entire life.
He said compared to he rest of Fairfield County,”It is one of the worst. It was like that when I went to school there. It’s dark. We could fix that field up very nicely.”
Camillo said with new technology there is little light spillage.
“But I’d like to focus on other venues like the back of Town Hall. Maybe the 80 acres we could possibly get from Aquarion. It would be nice to have a sports complex here which would add fields, whether turf or natural grass, and I prefer natural grass.”
Oberlander said the current situation at Cardinal Field reflected short term planning. “There are the options of litigating with neighbors, finding another spot, or living with what we have. The town has made a decision so far not to litigate with the neighbors. It is very costly, but to improve access which is happening very slowly.”
Handicapped Access at Greenwich Railroad Station
Camillo said the redeveloped train station should not just be “accessible” but should be inclusive overall.
“You don’t want to isolate people. Handicapped people should be able sit with everybody else. Not only ADA compliant. This could happen to any one of us.”
“When do you have the most power in negotiating for what you want?” Oberlander asked. “Before you sign the deal. So, handicapped/disabled access to the train station, they have a new elevator in the plans but I don’t think it was a priority when the town looked at the deal. If there are improvements the community wants, we should be negotiating for them at the beginning, not after the deal was struck.”
“One of the reasons it was a good idea to not approve that deal as it was presented was there was no community input or dialogue when there should have been. It was a negotiated deal, for whatever purpose, done by the First Selectman’s office.”
She said input on accessibility would be forthcoming. “Even though you have an elevator on one side of the tracks, you don’t have any escalators to allow people who need assistance. All of those inputs are critically important.”
“We have slightly different positions on the railroad plaza deal,” Oberlander continued. “I’m not so sure you need to decouple the air rights from discussion on the north side. We did not get enough information. We did not get the right valuation And there was no community input. We need to bring people in sooner. That’s how you build consensus.”
Parking Services, Parking Infrastructure
Rick Kral, owner of the Greenwich Water Club, asked about funding parking infrastructure through the town’s parking fund.
“Would you review how the parking fund may be used, and be more focused on projects, or at least a study to get us there?” Kral asked, noting that the town doesn’t currently even have a traffic engineer. “That fund at one point had millions of dollars. It’s since been depleted and we have not seen one parking garage or parking lot, which was the original intention of that fund.”
Oberlander said the town should look at how it measures up to other communities, including rates, pressure points, and inventory usage.
“We should also be talking to the State about the train lots and what we can do there. Yes, we are running down the parking fund. If we have revenue sources it could make a difference. We have a lot of needs.”
Camillo said if he wins, he would take a close look at all town departments. “Some are going to have to be restructured,” he said. As for Parking service, he said it might be a good candidate to outsource. “Atlanta Georgia just outsourced their parking department and seem to be very happy with it.”
Sonia Malloy who owns Splurge gift shop, asked the candidates’ how they would lure young families and singles to town, noting that they are in a phase of “accumulation.”
Oberlander said adding workforce and affordable housing would go a long way to bring young families and singles to town.
“Housing costs are a deterrent to young families, coupled with the fact we have not invested in our schools,” she said, adding that Greenwich may have fewer recreation programs for children than other towns.
“If we have walkable streets, safe routes to schools, bike racks, access to playgrounds and community facilities for children,” she said, adding that Greenwich has a limited amount of outdoor community basketball courts. “We should have more things like that.”
“Right now we have closed fields at Western Middle School,” she said.
Camillo said, “We do spend money on schools. We built four schools since the 1990s, so that is not the issue.”
He said preferences in sports have changed over the years.
“Baseball in Greenwich is now travel baseball. And there’s soccer and lacrosse taking away from it,” he said. “People move here for the fact we’re on the water, that we have really good schools, the fact we have low taxes, and our proximity to New York. How do we promote that more and how do we make it even better?”
“But I’m a sports guy,” Camillo said. “I want to see us have the best fields. That’s why we’ll have to tap into private money with no restrictions.”
Camillo said tastes have changed and more people want to live closer to town for the convenience of walking to places. “How do we think out of the box?” he asked.
He said he liked the idea of creating satellite business districts in back country like Fairfield has done with Greenfield Hills.
“I think Byram is the place to go. Byram is up and coming. It’s great and it’s affordable. We just have to promote it a little more. We have to promote the things we have done well, and also focus on what we’ve left behind like athletic facilities.”
Upcoming candidate forums:
On Wednesday, Oct 30, from 7:00pm to 8:00pm in the Town Hall meeting room will also be sponsored by the League of Women Voters Greenwich will hold a debate for candidates for Tax Collector. Incumbent Democrat Howard Richman vs Republican Heather Smeriglio. The moderator will be Marianne Pollak from Stamford, former Stamford League President.
The Round Hill Association will also hold a debate between the candidates for First Selectman and Selectman on Tuesday, Oct 22 at the Round Hill Community House at 397 Round Hill Rd. Refreshments are at 6:30. The debate is 7-8:30 pm. Candidates include Fred Camillo, Jill Oberlander, Lauren Rabin, Sandy Litvack. Jara Burnett from LWV will moderate.
All four selectmen candidates will debate before students at Greenwich High School on Nov 1. The event is not open to the public or parents, but media are invited. Watch this space.