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Board of Finance info session aims for fiscal transparency

With an eye to openness on budget, revaluation and property tax questions, the Board of Finance held a public information session last Wednesday, Jan. 16, at the Wilton Library. A sparse group, only six residents, attended.

The finance panel presented a slide show that posed such questions as, What is the forecasted impact of the revaluation on the 2014 mill rate and individual property taxes?

According to the Board of Finance, “preliminary revaluation results indicate an overall decline in real property valuation of 18% and 20% for residential property and 9% for commercial property.”

To estimate whether taxes increase or decrease because of revaluation, taxpayers should determine “how their valuation change compares to the overall valuation decline.”

The mill rate is poised for an inevitable increase, “yet it is too early to determine the rate,” according to the Board of Finance.

The board also raised the subject, What are the actual results of the budgets for fiscal years 2012 and 2013?

The news is mixed. “Fiscal year 2012 resulted in a surplus of approximately $5,700,000, primarily due to Board of Education and Board of Selectmen savings, and additional revenue.”

When the fiscal year came to close on June 30 last year, “there was approximately $4,000,000 in undesignated funds available to reduce budgets for fiscal year 2014 and beyond,” the Board of Finance said.

Meanwhile, although the Board of Selectmen expects “to be on budget for fiscal year 2013, the Board of Education is forecasting approximately $1 million in overspending for special education.” This is due to “an increase in students requiring outside placement and seeking arbitration.”

To offset the shortfall, “the Board of Education has adopted a spending freeze in other areas,” the Board of Finance said.

So how are property taxes calculated?

First, “the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education develop and submit expenses and revenues and other components of their fiscal year 2014 budgets,” according to the Board of Finance.

Next, “the Board of Finance finalizes a budget and a mill rate which is submitted to the taxpayers” for their annual Town Meeting vote in the spring. “The mill rate is applied to the individual taxpayer’s property assessment” to calculate his or her property taxes.

The Board of Finance is asking for steady 1.75% budget increases from the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education for the next three years. Based on “debt service, revenues, tax relief, and fund balance adjustment,” the Board of Finance is projecting the mill rate will increase 1.346% in fiscal year 2014, 2.704% in fiscal year 2015, and 3.20% in fiscal year 2016.

This year’s mill rate increase was 0.986%.

The panel also focused on the grand list, which is expected to decline, according to Board of Finance Chair Warren Serenbetz.

The grand list is comprised of residential and commercial real and personal property. Real property is revalued every five years, while personal property is valued annually.

The grand list valuation might be described as a slow starter. “The grand list valuation date lags the mill rate start date by 21 months. For example, the 2014 mill rate is based on the grand list as of Oct. 1, 2012.

For information on the budget meetings for fiscal year 2014, visit wiltonct.org.

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