Camillo lays out Greenwich’s $464m budget plan, seeks to ‘keep taxes low but get things done’

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GREENWICH — The proposed $464 million city budget for 2022-23, which was unveiled Tuesday night by first coach Fred Camillo, would fund improvements to Roger Sherman Baldwin Park and new intersection bumps on Greenwich Avenue, but would delay money for a new municipal ice rink for a year.

Camillo formally presented the spending plan to the budget committee of the Board of Estimate & Taxation. The proposed budget of $464,026,952 for the next fiscal year would represent a 3.5% increase over the current fiscal year’s budget of $448.5 million.

The budget also contains a proposed $87 million in capital spending, which is above the $70 million guideline for capital spending that BET approved last fall.

“These projects need to get done, and I work very hard to ease the burden on taxpayers through public-private partnerships whenever possible,” Camillo told Greenwich Times in an interview ahead of his presentation. “We are making great progress on this. … We try to keep taxes low, but get things done. We cannot stagnate. You can’t just kick the box down the road.

Under the plan, the city’s mileage rate, which is used to calculate property taxes, would increase by 2.4%. This increase would fall under BET guidelines. The guidelines are not binding, but they detail what the BET would be inclined to approve at the end of the budget process.

Camillo said he believed the BET would agree that the elements of its proposed budget are in the best interest of the city.

Budget plan includes $100,000 to assess improvements to Roger Sherman Baldwin Park, plus $1.3 million for design work and relocation of a Parks and Recreation building in fiscal year 2023-24 and $11.2 million for construction in 2024-25.

Security enhancements

Camillo’s budget focuses on public safety, with proposed replacement projects for the intersections of Greenwich Avenue with Arch Street/Havemeyer Place and Grigg Street/Fawcett Street being budgeted at $2.8 million.

“We’re making a lot of safety improvements, not just because we like the look of the bumps, but because our focus is on pedestrian safety, especially now that many people are working from home,” Camillo said. “It was a goal of mine from day one, and we’re doing it now. We’ve met with neighborhoods in Old Greenwich, Glenville and Byram. We’re listening to them. We want them to be safe. We’re investing money for bumps, for crosswalks and for sidewalks.

These projects would include $300,000 for pedestrian safety improvements in Byram, continuing a project that began this year; $500,000 to improve traffic flow in Glenville; and $500,000 for Old Greenwich streetscape improvements. There is also a budget of $400,000 for sidewalk improvements in Cos Cob and $500,000 to improve the aesthetics of Greenwich Avenue and continue the work of the Re-Imagine Greenwich Committee.

The budget plan also includes $9.6 million for long-discussed upgrades to the Holly Hill Resource Recovery Facility.

But one project not moving forward in Camillo’s 2022-23 budget plan is a new municipal skating rink. He said it would only be postponed until next year to get the plan right. The project committee is studying a plan to build the new rink on the adjacent Strazza field and put the baseball field on the site of the old rink, which would be demolished. But the Byram Veterans Association and some residents have complained about the proposal.

“We think we’re getting it back on track, and we want to get more public feedback first,” Camillo said. “We want to see if we can keep the rink where it is and make sure that in the year to two years it would take to rebuild it into a modern rink, we will have a place where our children can skate. … It will happen. Right now the (old) ice rink is okay, it’s just not very nice. We want to do much better.

The revised plan would receive $950,000 in the 2023-24 budget for final design plans and $17 million, going forward, for construction in the 2024-25 fiscal year, he said.

Capital projects

BET guidelines called for a less than 2.5% increase in the rate per mile, and Camillo’s plan would result in a 2.4% increase. And Camillo said he expects his rate-per-mile proposal to be reduced in the process.

Nearly $10 million of the $87 million in capital spending would come back to the city in the form of grants, he said. And BET is likely to cut $8 million from the budget to remediate contaminated soil at Western Middle School playgrounds, Camillo said.

The school board did not request the $8 million, and BET said it would likely manage that funding through an interim appropriation and not through the budget process. Indeed, the remediation plan is still awaiting the state and federal approvals required to move forward.

Camillo said he included the funding in the budget plan to remind the city “that we want to get this done and we’re serious about it.”

“For all intents and purposes, we can reduce that capital expenditure to $70 million,” he said.

Additionally, Camillo said he expects the $21.5 million price tag for the new civic center, which was approved last year, to also come down.

The city has already secured a $5 million donation from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation for the project in exchange for the naming rights for the new building. Camillo said there will be a fundraising campaign and naming rights are also available for new gyms, the cafe and other areas.

“We’re looking to significantly reduce that number even with the $5 million,” he said.

Camillo said public-private partnerships would also be part of what he’s looking for for work at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park.

The price would be $11.5 million for construction in 2023-24, but Camillo said that number is intentionally high to cover a number of scenarios, including whether soil remediation needs to be done.

“I made it known that we would be open to having naming opportunities inside the park, like at the meadow or at the skate park, and a very generous donor and civic-minded person reached out to me,” Camillo said.

Following Camillo’s budget presentation Tuesday night, Superintendent of Schools Toni Jones and School Board President Kathleen Stowe presented plans for the proposed school budget for 2022-23.

In December, the Board of Education approved an operating budget of $176.7 million, with a recommended capital budget of $30.3 million. Discussion of the proposed school budget is expected to focus on the possibility of accelerating an assessment of the future of Central Middle School and what that would mean for improvements at Julian Curtiss School and Old Greenwich School.

The BET budget committee is set to begin a series of budget meetings with city department heads on Feb. 1.

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