Bob Horton looks at (some of) the town budget and has some questions

And they’re good ones.

The Board of Education wants to solve overcrowding at New Lebanon Elementary School in Byram by constructing a building so large it will accommodate 100 students more than the projected future student population.

No doubt New Lebanon needs a bigger facility; kindergarten has already moved off campus, and grades one-five are packed tight. Common sense would dictate that the existing building be altered or enlarged. Instead a subcommittee came back with plans for a monumentally bigger school, one with at least nine more classrooms than needed. Whence came this idea?

[W]ith three of the nine new classrooms designated for Pre-K (when did the school board decide to expand the Pre-K program?), and let’s say three more needed for the existing population, that leaves three potentially empty classrooms. Seems very wasteful; but maybe the school board can convert them to dormitories and rent them to tourists via airbnb.

….  In the early 2000s, a few then members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation concluded the town had too many firehouses. There are eight, but the 62,000 people and 48 square miles that comprise our town can be covered quite well by four, maybe five fire stations.

In a dramatic give and take between First Selectmen Peter Tesei and his fellow party members on the BET last Thursday afternoon, Tesei argued that the town needed to hire 17 more fire fighters over the next two years and build a new firehouse to cover Northwest Greenwich. He said BET members’ reluctance to make this decision showed “cowardice.”

… One of those allegedly cowardly financiers was BET Chairman Michael Mason, who said the BET was still looking for more comprehensive planning from the Fire Department.

“What’s the overall, long-term plan? How are we going to get there,” Mason asked.

…[T] he town’s record of building firehouses, or any significant building for that matter, is very poor. The new Hamilton Avenue School came in late and millions of dollars over budget. The Police Palace, otherwise known as the Public Safety Complex, was built to be the first half of one building that would jointly house the Police Department, Fire Department administration, and a renovated Central Firehouse.

Those plans were scrapped, and in 2011 Tesei supported, and the BET approved, the building of an entirely new Central Firehouse. Defending his decision to proceed immediately with the new construction, Tesei said the project was “shovel ready,” which were the key buzzwords in the “fiscal stimulus” conversation that dominated national, state, and local economic news during the height of the fiscal crisis.

Now, in 2015, all that stands of the new Central Firehouse is an impressive north wall that physically and symbolically turns the Fire Department’s back on the Safety Complex that was to be part of its new home. ….


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24 responses to “Bob Horton looks at (some of) the town budget and has some questions

  1. AJ

    Speaking of budgets, how about six trillion spent fighting terrorism since 9-11, that’s 6,000 billion dollars.

    Truth? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Truth — Paul Craig Roberts

    Wonder how much of that was spent on Building Number Seven to rig it with explosives for controlled demolition?

  2. Once

    Peter testi knows he’s a shoo-in year after year so no need to save money just another spender who has solidified his place in govt. Name calling is what libs do when they can’t make an argument. Shame he’s fallen so low.

  3. Horton Fountain information overlaod may get ….
    Lindsay Republicans and Clinton Democrats to see the road.
    We should all make sure we crush the can even with a puppy on our lap.
    Or we will just drive down the Rober Moses Power Broker extra lane.
    As in stay Grubered.

  4. Anonymous

    Good point what happened to the firehouse. Didn’t they level the old one more than 2 years ago. It has been a building site for a long while.

  5. Anonymous

    More bad government. Is there another kind?

  6. Anonymous

    They need to build new leb as a “magnet” so the state will pay for a big portion of it as a “rational balance” initiative. It’s all about other people’s money.
    Having some extra space of emergencies isn’t bad. We have very limited swing space in the district if cod cob torches their school again.

  7. Anonsky

    It’s wealthy white folks being guilted into making a massive investment in educating the children of illegals. Of course nobody wants to send these grubby beaners over to Parkway. The solution is to keep building larger and larger schools which will only attract more and more illegals. At least the rich crackers in Greenwich can afford. So just think of this as a way to keep Pedro and Juan away from Jonathan, Cody and Jennifer.

  8. Anonymous

    The absurdity of spending millions of dollars to build a new school at NL is comical. There is ample space throughout the Greenwich elementary schools to educate all children without laying a single brick. The issue is the refusal of the board to consider even the most modest changes to district boundaries to rebalance capacity. I could buy the argument we are using “other people’s money” to build the school if this were limited to NL, but what are we going to do when Glenville is over crowded? It’ll be there in a couple years. I’m not talking about shipping Riverside kids across town, but modest changes at the margins that would rebalance capacity without changing the character of the school or destroying the neighborhood model. Use patterns have changed in the decades since the boundaries were drawn and it’s time for a modest update. Given that the two schools at most undercapacity are NS and Parkway and are also considered two of the most desirable, it could be done it a way where property owners feel upgraded with minimal blowback.

  9. Greenwich has 7 firehouses and 11 elementary schools. Are there too many? Sure: the system grew organically over 100 years. Some of the siting was determined by travel times in the days of horses. Do we really need both Cos Cob and Sound Beach firehouses, about 2 miles apart? No, but this is one of the many topics where a government responds to the public, and the public won’t allow changes. If a businessman were laying out the location of fire houses or elementary schools, he would rationalize the system into fewer but larger facilities. Intelligent planning would make for more efficiency and better coverage. But then there’s the *minor* matter of public opinion. Try closing Sound Beach firehouse (100 year history) because Cos Cob can provide coverage. Try telling those in Byram that their 100 year old firehouse must close, because a new one is needed near the airport. Or try redistricting the elementary schools: it’s simply out of the question politically. Every Republican and Democrat knows that to propose redistricting or rationalizing the firehouse system means electoral defeat, immediately. A few years ago a discussion was held at Riverside School about a small redistricting with N. Mianus and Dundee. The discussion brought out hundreds of parents: it resembled an English soccer hooligan riot (without the beer). The school board escaped without police protection, barely. The political reality is there is simply no practical alternative to rebuilding New Lebanon school. The racial balance law combined with local voter preferences, impel the project. Let’s take the $20 million from Hartford and do it, intelligently.

    If Horton had some courage and some smarts, he’d look into the Byram Park pool project: $11-13 million in next year’s budget: three separate pools, one of which has three basins. This will be the most elaborate municipal pool in the country. The plans aren’t online, but they’re available at Town Hall, for a reporter with diligence……….

    • Anonymous

      Balzac….your point is well taken that this is a difficult decision for elected leaders who’s only real worry, after all, is about being re-elected—not the principles involved. Having said this—there are many creative alternatives to be considered.

      Who is to say that a fire station can’t be made into a community center—keep the building but remove the high priced firefighters and trucks to another more appropriate location? Do we all agree that public safety is #1—then why isn’t this the over riding message. Its LESS SAFE to have these stations further away from peril–and MINUTES count.

      I think Tesei is tired. Or, he is so safe in re-election he doesn’t even try anymore. His public spats are unbecoming of a Town like Greenwich.

    • Anonymous

      Someone just told me toxins on site C have been identified. If this is true will the First Selectman come out of hiding and put a stop to this project before we the tax payer don’t end up paying millions on remediation. The BOE members up for re election this November should be booted out for offering up site C not knowing anything about this contaminated site. This is why the BOE doesn’t want to formally endorse a site. Pure politics and a non political board. The BOS needs to stop this now! Where is Tesei? I plan on asking for any correspondence he has had with BOE members especially its chair in regards to site C and what they knew. Plan A is the only feasible way to proceed. The kids will be fine in a trailer for a year.

      • Of course toxins of some sort have been identified… No surprise there given the history and location. Why would our esteemed BOE offer up a site knowing such. They reacted because of pressure. How irresponsible. This school is going to cost much more than than 30 million. I too think Tesei should take charge. If not throw him out too this November. For the BOE to request monies and for the FS to put in his capital budget millions not knowing where this school is going is a dereliction f his duties.

  10. Publius

    Elected officials from both side of the aisle like to build things. It is a concrete reminder to the taxpayer that government can get things done as in “here is where your tax dollars are being spent”. Unfortunately, aided and abetting by consultants and the guilt of tax payers saying “No” to first responders ( a “newspeak” term) and education of the great unwashed, there is no municipal building project that can’t be accomplished. Worse still, in the spirit of “It’s easier to apologize than to seek permission” these projects once started are never constrained by their initial budget/cost projections and tend to run fiscally wild with virtually no transparency as to the final cost. Poster child in Greenwich would be MISA or the Byram pool.

    Greenwich is no exception to this phenomena, it just tends to be more eye popping given the level of amenities that the townsfolk seemingly want (what other way to explain who gets elected and promotes these projects) and the seemingly endless cookie jar of revenue epitomized by starter homes that approach $2mm, Soul Cycle, juice bars, jewelers per capita, and an endless array of expensive late model luxury vehicles. Think H.L. Mencken

  11. the fascinating thing about spending in greenwich is that ‘we’ were supposed to be a bastion of fiscal conservatism, balanced budgets, efficient capital allocation, justifying our republican voting history. but we are, or have become, a mini-illinois, where our elected representatives have no backbone and cave to the spending demands of each constituency, whether it’s a swimming pool, a school or a firehouse.

  12. NL school is a bad product from the Robert Moses Power Broker Lindsay Republican Cult that had the non sense of place style of the building.
    Extending the existing footprint North would provide adequate space.
    It would provide a covered Porte Cochere style entry to Library and some covered parking & or pick up/drop off space.
    And give all students direct protected access to Library and maintain present outside footprint outdoor passive/active recreation assets.
    It is a bad product of Cult…worst was Neauveu Gle’nnville School that was a ONE ROOM SCHOOL built in 70’s…abject failure of it led to millions to be spent on redo….meanwhile in a glimer of hope….defying Town Policy the beautiful pre-Cult… Glenville School still still stands….why not reopen!
    Ohh that would lower the costs and not rely on Municipal Targeted Welfare & end justification for a few employees….
    Anyway…having students stay and learn after school at Library and be able to play with buddies right outside safely Byram would be great…..
    No digital device area in Library could get them reading more …..and maybe break the spell check dependent world that I wound up in…’s to end the Couch Chair present to a Porte Cochere future!
    Sense of place, history….part of year long 375 Birthday Party!

  13. Anonymous

    I think Tesei is a closet Democrat the way he spends and taxes. No wonder he gets reelected.

  14. Making room for pre school programs.

  15. pulled up in OG

    Committee or commission, that is the question.


  16. Anonymous

    The BOE has refused to actually endorse a site. They claim to have gotten behind site plan C only after Byram community members came out and pressured them to abandon site plan B ( the precious ball field .) This was a reactionary irresponsible act that has resulted in complete confusion as to the fate of New Lebanon School. Every BOE board member should be voted out this November for incompetence. Start with the chair. No one believes for a second a new school much bigger than necessary is actually going to be built in a ravine that surely will test positive for toxins. And not to mention the cost. I attended a BOE meeting last month and I was truly amazed at the level of incompetence exhibited by most members. If you want a new school built then contact the BOE members and demand they stop hiding and force them to choose a site. To come before the fiancé board without any specific information wanting 30 million dollars for a much larger than needed school is laughable. Mason needs to hold the BOE accountable and Sherr needs to keep asking the right questions.

    • Is anyone surprised? This was what you get when you elect PTA moms with nothing better to do. The PTA moms on the BOE now oversee a 130 million budget. They now will oversee a 35 million dollar new school. Elections have consequences.

    • Tax payer

      I too was surprised ( well not really ) to have read the BOE will not endorse a site. The education board wants to formal say on this matter. They want 35 million for a school but want no input as to location. This smells funny! The BOE lacks leadseship. Where is the First Selectman? Before tax payer money is wasted would someone demand input for the BOE. Tne First Selectman should lead on this. He should require the education board to properly research such site before this project proceeds any farther. Of course he won’t and the taxpayer will be out millions because of BOE incompetence and because the FS has yet again been invisible on this matter.