Anyone who wonders how it is possible for Greenwich to have such low taxes and such fine services, need only check out the organization of the town’s government.
Unlike many towns and cities, there is a great feeling of community here. Greenwich is run primarily by volunteers, not politicians. The town is governed by a Board of Selectmen (one full time and two part time) who are elected every two years. Although town departments are staffed by paid professionals, except for the Selectmen, all town boards (such as the Board of Estimate and Taxation, which serves as the town’s comptroller) and the Representative Town Meeting (the town’s legislative arm) are made up of unpaid citizen volunteers. This volunteer network supports and supplements the work of town departments and gives the town its unique cultural and social values. Because many of these citizen volunteers are often quite successful in business and other careers, the town is run efficiently, honestly, conservatively and in the interest of its citizens. How many towns can you say this about?
Much of what a citizen would want to know about Greenwich is available on the excellent town web site, www.GreenwichCT.org.
The main components of the town’s decentralized government are: Board of Selectmen, Board of Estimate and Taxation, the Independent Boards and the Representative Town Meeting.
The Board of Selectmen is composed of a full time First Selectman and two part time Selectmen. They are elected to serve for a term of two years. No more than two of the selectmen can be from the same party. The Fire, Police, Public Works, Purchasing, Parks & Recreation, Law Department and Human Relations report to the First Selectman. It is interesting to note that the staff of the Finance Department is hired by and reports to the Board of Estimate and Taxation and not the First Selectman.
- Board of Estimate and Taxation
Known as the BET, this group of 12 members, who are volunteers elected for a two year term, holds the town’s purse strings. They are responsible for the oversight of the town’s financial affairs; they prepare the town annual budget (now $294,000,000); and, subject to the approval of the RTM, they set the tax rate. The Town Committee of each party nominates a slate of six candidates. It is the policy of the BET to spend approximately $20,000,000 a year on capital improvements, not to borrow money and to allow real estate taxes to rise no more than 3% per year.
- Representative Town Meeting
Greenwich, like many New England towns, began by managing its affairs through a Town Meeting of all electors. The first recorded Town Meeting was held on February 5, 1664. By 1933, the town had grown so large that it had to abandon open town meetings and adopted the Representative Town Meeting (RTM),in which one person represented 100 voters. As the town grew, so did the RTM, whose size was eventually capped at 230 members, making it the largest legislature in the state.
The members of the RTM are elected every two years by the voters in each of the town’s 12 districts. Any registered voter in town may run as a candidate in his or her district. The RTM is non-partisan. Candidates run without party identification and serve without compensation. As a result, the composition of the RTM is very egalitarian.
Each RTM district elects a member as a delegate and an alternate to one of the standing committees, which oversee the operations of town’s departments. Delegates report the result of the meetings they attend at their district’s monthly meeting and then after a full discussion, the members vote at the monthly RTM meeting.
These meetings are open to the public and can be addressed by anyone who wishes to share their opinion. The RTM’s agenda, “The Call“, is online. Any citizen who wishes to put an item on the “Call” can do so by giving the town clerk a petition signed by 20-voters.
The RTM reviews appointments to all of the appointed boards, all interim appropriations, labor contracts, municipal improvements, gifts to the town and, of course, the BET and Board of Education budgets.
- Independent Boards
There are a number of independent boards and commissions, which are completely volunteer and have great power in how the town runs: Alarm Appeals, Architectural Review, Board of Ethics, Board of Health, Building Code Board of Standards & Appeals, Commission on Aging, Condemnation Board, Conservation, Flood & Erosion Control, Historic District, Housing Authority, Inland Wetlands & Water Courses Agency, Nathaniel Witherell, Parks & Recreation, Planning & Zoning, Planning & Zoning Appeals and Social Services. Candidates are nominated by the Board of Selectmen, interviewed by the RTM Appointments Committee and one or more of the other standing RTM committees, and then voted on by the RTM during its monthly meeting.