The sense of the meeting resolution on the RTM Call for next Monday’s meeting seems to be this week’s hot topic. It has been referred to all RTM committees.It will be discussed all week in committee and district meetings. It was discussed last night (October 18) at the regular BET meeting as well as at a joint meeting of the RTM’s Land Use and Education Committees. It will be the subject of my column for this coming Sunday, October 24.
Here are some sketchy notes from the two meetings I attended last night – BET and RTM’s joint meeting of the Land Use and Education Committees. This is just a quick blog posting, not a fleshed out version of my notes.
BET Chairman, Stephen Walko, introduced the BET discussion by making 3 important points: 1) the resolution’s reference to the Board of Selectman is in error as, by Charter, the BOS is not involved in the budget process, only in the setting of fees; rather, it is the First Selectman who, by Charter, has this responsibility, 2) the RTM is noticeably absent as a budget player in the resolution although the RTM itself plays a major role, not only in final approval of the budget, but more specifically in the area of labor contracts, 3) the call for improvement in transparency ignores the major progress that has been made by the BET in this direction over the past decade, and that continues, particularly with regard to the budget guidelines, the capital improvements projects (CIP), and the openness of the budget process. Walko said that, while the BET can always make improvements in transparency and clarity, and strives to do so, he hoped that the RTM resolution would recognize this and not make such criticism part of the resolution.
Walko’s points were re-iterated by BET clerk Bob Pellegrino, who sat in for Walko as BET representative at the joint meeting of the RTM Land Use and Education Committees. Pellegrino urged RTM members to listen to the Channel 79 taping of the BET meeting and/or to read the minutes of the meeting online to get a sense of the comments made by different BET members.Proponents of the proposed RTM resolution who were the spokespeople at the joint committee meeting – Valerie Stauffer, Lucia Jansen and Bill Galvin – seemed to agree to these changes to the resolution when specifically asked at this joint meeting.
For the most part comments on the subject seemed to boil down to the view that there is nothing in the proposed RTM resolution that the BET is not already doing and that, unless the proponents of the resolution can come up with specific cuts, it is unhelpful to put the entire burden on the shoulders of the First Selectman and the BET to do something beyond what they are already doing. The resolution itself which calls for reducing the rate of increase in the budget is already in the BET’s proposed budget guidelines for the 2012 budget, which, currently in draft form, call for a 2.9% mill rate increase, a reduction from the usual 3.5% increase.
BET members high lighted the fact that the public’s demand for services is very great, and that they rarely hear the public asking for a lesser level of service in favor of reduced taxes. Proponents of the resolution, on the other hand, argue that this resolution reflected a groundswell of support for reducing taxes in a changed post-2008 economic environment.
Proponents of the resolution were repeatedly asked, both by members of the BET and by the First Selectman, to be more specific about how they might achieve their goals. What cuts would they recommend? What reduction in services? Their response was that they did not want to micro-manage. They would leave such specifics to the experts, presumably the First Selectman and the BET.
Because the resolution is so general, many seemed to feel it was like motherhood and apple pie. How could anyone vote against it?
Comments by BET members and the First Selectman also highlighted the need for a better understanding of the way in which labor contracts drive the budget, and the impact of state law regarding binding arbitration.
At both meetings, Lucia Jansen and District 7 were commended for the work done in researching the issue and developing the historical data, as well as bringing this matter to the forefront for the purposes of dialogue.
But the Land Use Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Peter Berg, has developed an impressive list of 21 written questions, and observations, that punch some holes in the historical argument that underlies the resolution. These questions, and well-researched observations, demonstrate that using population growth, or lack thereof over a 40 year period, is not the most relevant variable in examining the town’s budget growth over this period of time. There are many other factors to be considered. This list of questions and observations also suggests that an argument can be made to the effect that property taxes are actually more affordable to Greenwich median income households now than they were in 1970, the year in which Jansen’s analysis begins, and that the town has done an excellent job in keeping taxes down over this 40 year period.