Opinion: The consequences for Greenwich of not voting

North Mianus School in the Riverside section of Greenwich, Conn., photographed on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

North Mianus School in the Riverside section of Greenwich, Conn., photographed on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

Whether you are focused upon it or not, there is an election Nov. 2 for our municipal elected officials, and the outcome has more impact upon your quality of life here in Greenwich than you may realize.

Regrettably, only 40 percent of our registered voters typically vote in municipal elections. The result is that a fairly small number of party partisans control the outcome, and their narrow priorities govern the existence or absence of municipal and educational services that you would like to have seen, but won’t.

Instead, control of the budget has been placed in the hands of a select few designated by the Republican Town Committee with a very clear agenda, plainly evidenced by their actions. Be reminded:

1. Storm Preparedness: If you have finally dried out from the ravages of storm “Ida,” be aware that cut from the budget this year on a party-line vote was the funding to study and understand the vulnerabilities of our town assets to storm flooding and sea level rise, and to plan solutions. It was an interruption of what had been a three-year project.

2. Updating Schools: Cut and postponed, on a party-line vote, was the methodical process of the sequential renovation of our aging schools: Julian Curtiss, to be followed by Old Greenwich, and then to be followed by Riverside, to address such issues as handicap access, security, pre-K, air quality, and updating media centers, science rooms, cafeterias and playgrounds. Updating these tired schools was deemed by them (none of whom have a child in the public schools) as being an expendable mere “nice to have.”

3. Fire Protection: Having spent $76,020 on an outside consultant, Matrix Consulting Group, and being told by them (again) that our fire and emergency response to the northern sectors of town is substandard, the funds to study and implement the Matrix recommendation to establish a career fire station, either at the site of the existing volunteer station at Round Hill or at another location, was cut. Cut on a party-line vote. Fire response to the northern sectors of town is off the table for yet another year.

4. North Mianus: Delayed, by party-line vote, was the funding to repair the collapsed ceiling at North Mianus School, while Republicans balked at the repair and replacement the remaining ceilings in that school, ceilings of the same age and construction as the one that collapsed, but work not reimbursed by insurance. Was there honestly a question as to whether we would risk a further ceiling collapse in a classroom? Was there no consideration for the impact of delay upon the children?

5. Central Middle School: Cut from the budget, on a party-line vote, was funding urged by the school board’s engineers to examine the condition of the deteriorating structure at Central Middle School, to better understand its condition and to plan for its eventual repair or replacement. Apparently better not to know.

6. Eastern Greenwich Civic Center: The release of funding to finally renovate the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center was pulled back on a party-line vote, not to be released unless and until there are “substantial private donations” and a demonstration of “rents and fees” to be collected if the work is done.

7. Safe Bicycle Routes: Bicycle enthusiasts across town organized to request a small sum of seed money for a look at the feasibility of safe bike routes across town, offering to supplement town funds with their private donations. It held the promise of separating bicyclists from vehicles on our busiest routes. Good for everybody, but funding was rejected on a party-line vote.

8. Paving: Paving, previously carried out at about $5 million each year to maintain our roads, was cut to $3.5 million on a party-line vote. Hopefully our bicyclists, lacking safe routes, will not tumble into our proliferating potholes.

9. Fire Apparatus: We replace fire engines on a methodical rotation across seven stations, passing down replaced engines to our volunteer companies. For the second year, this orderly rotation has been suspended on a party-line vote.

10. The Dump. For a decade, the Department of Public Works has been urging a redesign of the chaotic traffic patterns at the dump, to relieve delays and avert the risk of someone being injured. Once again, not a penny. Party-line vote.

11. Capital Budgeting: For years, we budgeted to pay a portion of our capital projects in cash, rather than by borrowing, and we increased that cash component annually by a modest figure approximating inflation. But this cash component adds to the mill rate. That discipline was squelched for the second year now, on a party-line vote, to artificially suppress the actual mill rate. The failure to fund this cash component compromises the ability of the town to adhere to its capital planning for subsequent years.

Good government is balancing taxes against services, seeking an equilibrium that funds a community with reasonable taxes and yet affords a level of amenity that makes this a place where we all want to live.

Low taxes are great. In fiscal years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, during which Democrats ran the BET, the tax increases at zero and 2.75 percent were smaller than they had ever been in the preceding decades of Republican administration. Good management does not require being stingy and mean.

At each election, we send 12 citizens to our finance board, the Board of Estimate and Taxation. Six Republicans and six Democrats. They create the budget, and they control the balance of taxes vs. services. Despite the appearance of an even six-six balance, the town charter provides that the party whose six candidates aggregate the higher total vote in the election will appoint the chair, and the chair has a tie- breaking vote. In past years, party-line votes were infrequent, and budgets were hammered out with active dialogue across the aisle. In the recent years of Trump, that dialogue has faded and been replaced by the drumbeat of party-line votes, decided just by the imposition of the chair’s tie-breaking vote.

If the Republican voting record recounted for you here no longer suits you, if the balance has tilted wrong, then you need to be mindful of the power of your vote Nov. 2, and the opportunity to vote for the six Democrats running for the Board of Estimate and Taxation, passing the chair’s tie-breaking vote into fresh hands.

It has never been easier to vote. The governor’s executive order under COVID still stands, allowing every citizen to vote either at the polls on Nov. 2 or by absentee ballot. Applications for an absentee ballot can be picked up at the town clerk’s office, by calling 203-622-7897, by emailing tclerk@greenwichct.org), or by downloaded from www.greenwichct.gov.

It is still a Democracy. Elections have consequences.

Jeff Ramer is a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation.