Some years it’s a tough decision which way to vote on the budget. Occasionally, something controversial is just screaming to be cut or lessened, but not this year.
This go round it’s an easier one. Vote yes to all five questions on the budget ballot.
Vote yes to question one — approving the budget and tax rate for the fiscal year 2020 as recommended by the Board of Finance.
Vote yes to each of the four capital bonding items because they are all important infrastructure improvements: $3,398,150 for road work and a parking lot restoration, $350,000 for town hall roof replacement, $600,000 for the school district roof replacement program, and $1,300,000 for bridge replacement. There is no benefit to putting off needed repairs.
The reason to vote yes on question one, the overall budget, is simple. Both the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education operating budgets were kept to a zero-percent increase.
But getting to zero wasn’t simple. Both boards heeded the finance board’s budget guidance with their proposals, seeking modest increases. But, when the grand list was released, it showed a decrease in value. Revaluation numbers showed about half the town’s residential properties had gone up in value while the other half had gone down.
So, the finance board made a tough decision, and in a split vote, kept the town and school budgets flat in order to offset revenue decreases from lessened tax collection.
While a zero-percent increase in and of itself is a good reason to vote yes, there is also another important reason — saving the proposed alternative school program.
As a new initiative, the program faced the chopping block when the school board was directed to keep its budget flat. Estimated to cost $468,000 for its first year, the program would allow some students who are now placed out of town for education services, as well as future outplacements, to remain in Wilton at a huge potential cost savings in the education budget.
Last week, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice and Board of Education Chair Christine Finkelstein explained the savings to the finance board and asked it to authorize $468,000 from the board’s Charter Authority line to fund the program for one year.
“You have an opportunity to do something that is both good for our town and our students and which will reduce or avoid costs next year and in the future,” Vanderslice told the board.
There was no split vote this time. Finance board members unanimously praised the alternative school program and the expected savings.
But funding for the alternative school is not a done deal.
The finance board has reserved the right to not go forward with funding the program from its Charter Authority should voters at the Annual Town Meeting (ATM) vote to cut the town or school budgets, or vote down the budget at the adjourned town meeting vote.
So, now is not the time for voters to get complacent.
At the ATM, motions can be made to reduce the school and/or town budgets, but motions cannot be made to increase them. All that’s necessary for a motion for a budget reduction to pass is a “yes” vote by a majority of those people who are present.
So, come to the ATM on Tuesday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. in the Clune Center auditorium at Wilton High School and support the budget.
If you cannot make the ATM, the adjourned vote will be held on Saturday, May 11, at the Clune Center, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
If you cannot make that vote, absentee ballots will be available from May 8 through May 10 at town hall.
There’s no excuse not to be involved in the budget decision-making process and risk losing a financial ray of light — the alternative school program. So vote yes.