An Open Letter to the New Board of Estimate and Taxation submitted by John Blankley, Dec. 28, 2017
In early January a new Board of Estimate and Taxation (the “BET”) will be sworn in – under the effective control of Democrats for the first time ever in our town’s history, as far as we are aware. I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on this change and set out a couple of hopes and aspirations for our new finance board. I myself have had the honor and pleasure of serving for two terms on the BET and am leaving the board as I continue my exploratory campaign for State Treasurer.
First a small retrospective: working together (though we did have disagreements along the way!)
Republicans and Democrats can point to significant achievements over these past few years: financing the construction of the High School Music Instructional Space and auditorium known as “MISA,” the Town swimming pool in Byram and the start of the reconstruction of New Lebanon School. The board moved the management of its pension fund to an outsourced Chief Investment officer, “O-CIO” model, kept level services in the school and town budgets and achieved continually lowering mill-rate increases.
Outliers in my party say not enough and not fast enough and their equivalents on the other side of the aisle say too much spending, too much debt and how about actually reducing taxes.
Somewhere in the middle we found solutions and outcomes that pleased the majority of our town’s residents.
However, the electorate saw threats on the horizon: a proposed charter change that would have unbalanced the school board and potential draconian budget cutting from elements in the RTM.
It also emphatically rejected incivility in public discourse manifest at the highest level in the nation’s elected leadership and reflected in coarse and misogynistic comments in a local blog.
The result was the historic change in control of the BET, a rejection of a reactionary trend in the BOE, the election of a Democratic tax collector over a Republican incumbent, a near change in the Board of Selectmen and a definitely more progressive complexion in the RTM.
But whoever controlled the BET, stark reality was always going to hit the new board: there will be no more help from Hartford, and Washington Republicans have increased our taxes by restricting the deductibility of state and local taxes.
Against this backdrop, school field remediation needs to be addressed, the town will expect level services in its public works and ‘Parks and Rec’ activities, not to mention in social and health care services.
But above all, woe betide any of our boards that preside over a falloff in achievement levels in our public schools. Then there’s the 15 year capital improvement plan for town-wide school facilities recently commissioned by the BOE that will need to be financed.
Do all this and keep the mill rate down! Appears daunting doesn’t it?
But the tools are to hand in terms of the BET’s financing options, hitherto eschewed by Republicans. Now is the time for initiative and innovation by our town’s most powerful board. Greenwich expects nothing but the best – I hope the new BET will rise to the occasion.
But especially I hope that a spirit of compromise will enable Democrats and Republicans to continue their recent productive cooperation.
I challenge my fellow Democrats, now in the driver’s seat, to be true to the Democratic goals we espoused while in the minority. And I say to my Republican friends, unused to your new role, accept with good grace that a couple of issues will now be decided against your long held positions. I have high hopes that my wish for a spirit of cooperation will be fulfilled as I bid the board farewell.
Best wishes to you all and a Happy New Year!
John Blankley is leaving the BET after two terms and is now exploring a run for State Treasurer in 2018