Litvack: At What Cost the “Cut, Slash and Burn” Cry of Ultraconservatives in Greenwich?

Submitted by Sandy Litvack, the Democratic Candidate for First Selectman in Greenwich. The General Election will be held on Tuesday, November 7th.

Sandy Litvack Photo: Leslie Yager

CUT SLASH AND BURN – that is the cry of the ultraconservatives when they look at the budget. How much? At least ten to fifteen percent and even more would be better, they say. But, to what end? And, equally important, at what cost?

These are the questions that must be asked and answered. Seriously, soberly and thoughtfully. No business would simply decree a 15% budget cut without regard to where the cuts would be made and how they would impact the overall entity, in this case the Town. Yet that is what is being proposed, even though the nature of our town and the quality of our lives are at stake.

Over the past few months I have been speaking with people throughout our Town about the issues that matter to them. While the chaos on the national political scene is a grave concern, there is growing unease about our State budget. How will this impact me, is the question I am most often asked. And, my answer is, it depends.  It depends on what we want from our Town and how it will operate in this challenging environment.

I think what we all want is clear: to maintain and improve the quality of life in Greenwich. But that means we have to change some things. We can no longer:

  1. Tolerate a Parking Services Department where thefts repeatedly occur and accounting controls are ignored.

  2. Simply decry our increased traffic problems despite zero population growth, while doing nothing to solve it.

  3. Accept the mounting number of lawsuits, which cost our Town hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements, money which could have been used for more productive purposes.

  4. Ignore the deteriorating sports fields and sports facilities all over Town.

And, as we all know, these are issues which have been neglected in the so-called good years. How do we address them in more austere times, while efficiently managing our finances so as to keep our tax rate competitively low? That is the challenge we face. Do we have to slash the budget by some arbitrary number to accomplish that goal?  I, along with many others, say, no.

A well- known business adage you cannot cut your way to prosperity is applicable to Greenwich. During my tenure at Disney the easiest way to increase profitability would have been to cut the people who work at the parks, greeting guests, maniacally cleaning the park and, playing various characters roaming the park to meet the children. But, if we did that we would not have the Disney people love. The same is true in Greenwich. If we cut services simply to achieve an arbitrary reduction in the budget and further reduce our mill rate, we will no longer have the Greenwich we all cherish. We might end up with a somewhat lower mill rate but it would be for a town that does not offer its residents or potential residents, the quality of life, including the schools, that people want in the place where they live and raise their children. In that scenario we all suffer.

What then? The answer is: we need serious, efficient, and careful management. It means a management that will not tolerate the repeated thefts that have occurred at the Parking Services Department, while management turns a blind eye. It means we can no longer abide Town management that fails to implement accounting controls and systems put forth by the Audit Department. No business would tolerate ignoring the auditors and Town management should not be held to any lesser standard. Nor can the taxpayers of Greenwich have a management that allows or condones conduct which results in lawsuits and hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements. These are luxuries and laxities which, if we ever could afford – and I think not – we certainly cannot afford going forward.

If we have the proper management our task would not be to slash the budget, but rather to develop the budget by looking at each element and asking: whether it is necessary, whether it is operating efficiently, whether there is a better way to do the same thing and what are the consequences of any cuts.

We can have sound financial management while protecting the quality of life. These are not binary choices. It only requires a new set of eyes and someone who owes no allegiance to anyone or any group, except the residents. That is what I offer.

Sandy Litvack is the Democratic Candidate for First Selectman in Greenwich. The General Election will be held on Tuesday, November 7th.