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Greenwich Dilemma: Should Building Projects Wait?

GREENWICH, Conn. – Although the town’s proposed budget is “very lean,” according to the chair of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, some in Greenwich want to postpone some building projects.

“It’s starting us on a slippery slope of financial commitment,” said Valerie Stauffer, chair of the Representative Town Meeting's District 7. She argued against including funds for projects such as the Byram Park Pool, saying Greenwich has already committed to other projects.

“Greenwich has a triple-A rating, and we’re proud of that. But so did CitiCorp, Bank of America," Stauffer added. "These ratings can come and go.” Another District 7 member, Bill Gorgas, reflected the same sentiments at a public hearing on the proposed budget Monday night.

The Board of Estimate and Taxation adopted a debt cap last year, limiting the town’s total debt to no more than $210 million. To remain within this limit, this year’s list of projects cannot exceed $47.5 million. “Next year the task will be particularly daunting, and it is likely that many very worthy projects will have to be deferred to remain within the debt cap,” First Selectman Peter Tesei said in his presentation to the board.

Of the recommended General Fund Budget of $367,697,245, a total of $49,237,000 would go to building projects in the town’s Capital Plan. More than $60 million in requests were originally submitted.

The town has already committed to funding the demolition and construction of a central fire station for $2.659 million; a new auditorium and technical education spaces at Greenwich High School for $12.515 million; and renovations to Nathaniel Witherell, the town’s nursing home, for $20.205 million.

Under the proposed budget, Greenwich Emergency Medical Services would receive $250,000 to build a new home base facility, and the site plan design of the Byram Park Pool would be partially funded at $150,000. In addition, $10.8 million has been set aside for the first phase of improvements at Holly Hill, the town’s recycling center.

A total of $1 million has been budgeted to dredge Cos Cob marina, and $460,000 allocated to address drainage on Lake Avenue. If approved, other funds would go toward annual vehicle replacement and several sewer system projects.

Of all the capital projects, “the wild card,” according to Tesei, is the cleanup of contaminated soil at Greenwich High School this summer. Until testing is complete, there is no way to determine the ultimate cost. The town has budgeted $3.57 million for testing and cleanup. “It is clear, however, that the costs that will be incurred will, of necessity, decrease the funds that are available during the next few years for many other worthy projects,” he added.

The budget proposes a 2.67 percent increase in the total amount budgeted for 2012-13 versus 2011-12. It also projects that revenue would be down about $2.68 million, pension obligations would grow by $1.1 million, contribution to capital projects would rise $3 million, and the nursing home’s upcoming renovation would incur a $1 million deficit.

Offsetting these increases would be a projected savings of $1.65 million in the Public Works Department from the single-stream recycling program, $740,000 in health-care cost savings and growth in the town’s most recent assessment.

Check back with The Daily Greenwich for more in-depth stories on town and school budgets in the coming days.

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