Rich suburb shows heart by turning down money

GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) — With its designer clothiers, gourmet food shops and antique stores, the main shopping street in this wealthy town doesn’t look like a place in need of a federal handout.
That’s exactly what town leaders thought when they took the unusual step of turning down a half-million dollars in federal money to spruce up the street. Some said it would look bad for such a rich community to take tax dollars for quaint lampposts, wrought-iron benches and potted plants.
“I could not support using federal tax dollars … given the cuts being made in other areas,” James G. Boutelle, a member of the town’s legislature, said on Tuesday. “We’re running a huge federal budget deficit. We’ve got to draw the line somewhere.”
The $500,000 was available under the Federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which pays for the improvements to highways, streets and transit systems. While some of the money is geared to income level, other funds are available to communities both rich and poor.
And Greenwich, population 57,000, certainly is one of the rich ones.
This New York City suburb is home to polo clubs and homes with an average selling price of more than $1 million. It’s also home to numerous corporate titans and celebrities, including Ivana Trump. Diana Ross, another resident, is occasionally seen shopping along trendy Greenwich Avenue.
Town officials came up with the idea to renovate Greenwich Avenue in 1994. Officials obtained a promise from state and federal officials that the half-million dollars would be available.
But last May, the 240-member town legislature rejected the proposal. First Selectman Thomas Ragland — the title is akin to mayor — and others tried to restart the project last year by asking for $60,000 of federal money. A town board turned down the proposal last month before it could even be put before the town legislature.
“I think that it shows a lot of character, a lot of heart and a lot of responsibility. You don’t see that today too often in communities,” said Reginald Patterson, director of the Ralph Lauren store. “It’s a great gesture of goodwill.”
But many merchants along the sloped main shopping street favored taking the money, saying it would have helped keep up that chic look.
“If you look at the taxes paid by the people who live in Greenwich, it’s staggering,” said Terry Betteridge, owner of Betteridge Jewelers, a family business that has been on the avenue for more than a century. “For $500,000 of that money to come back to us doesn’t seem to be unconscionable to me.”
Richard Mascali, an interior decorator from Rye, N.Y., said it’s clear from a walk down the street that the town leaders made the right decision.
“It sounds like a lot of money for potted plants and benches,” he said. “It’s already a beautiful street.”