The TASC List: Stronger leads to better

TASC advocates and stands for “Toward A Stronger Community.” How can we achieve that goal?

Some years ago while on a School Building Committee I witnessed an individual leading a new requirements session in anticipation of a proposed facility construction. He implored the audience to “throw them [the requirements] all up on the wall, and maybe some will stick.” He was of course contributing to a process of inflated requirements in an environment totally unconcerned with the realities of cost. That mentality still exists in some places within Wilton.

A new paradigm should be introduced. So here’s a suggestion. Let STRONGER represent Stop The Rise Of Newly Generated Expenditure Requirements. The acronym can be a constant reminder for all of us in constraining runaway costs and overblown requirements. Some of the ways to make that happen are listed in this space.

It’s time to slow the rising tide of costs. What costs? The price of home heating oil and gas at the pump. The growing expense of health care and pharmaceuticals. Food and clothing. Higher education. But these items are beyond our normal control. They certainly seem to be out of the reach of our elected officials in Washington. It’s fashionable to say that we can replace them all at election time, but that’s about as likely as reversing the earth’s gravitational pull.

Tending to our own concerns here at home, we can direct forces and influences to shape the cost curve. For example:

1) Lobby our finance committee members to fight for a flat budget (i.e., no increase) year to year.

2) Focus on the major budget elements of district K-12 administration, overhead, and salary levels for those who do not teach directly.

3) Ensure that all significant town and school expenditures are submitted in standard business case formats, with tangible benefits and clear justifications.

4) Resist every instance of “they (another town) have it so we need it in Wilton.” What we require here should derive exclusively from our very own statements of needs and priorities.

5) At every step search for alternatives, options, and other directional paths. Insist on exercising all possibilities for solutions and strict evaluation of any new and additional requirements package.

6) Look for models of efficiency and methods for effectiveness wherever we can find them. Test their usefulness for Wilton. Reject those that don’t fit. Adopt those that promise potential returns. Perform this hunt with scrupulous attention to detail. Make it a matter of habit. Give it the highest priority.

7) Cost-of-living increases most recently have resulted in very minor adjustments to payouts — as for Social Security at 1.5%. Thus any request for budget line item growth must be restricted to that threshold limit as a maximum. Functions seeking more must be advised immediately that the item will be treated initially as an out of bounds situation. Wilton taxpayers on fixed incomes — indeed all citizens — should expect no less.

8) Reshaping the cost curve does not necessarily equate to cutting the annual budget. But it does require a mind-set of seeking to do more with existing resources and to deliver increased function and value to student-centered activities and to projects, for example, that improve town conditions for the widest range of end users.

9) Finally, there needs to be a consensus among the three board heads (finance, education, and first selectman) on the risks and rewards of a zero to moderate budget increase. Such an agreement cannot be reached in the turbulence of the budget battle. It needs to be discussed, debated, and finalized well ahead of press releases on “initial” budgets and finance board pronouncements of suggested guidelines. It is essential here that all parties to the process understand the benefits of a healthy financial position both for today and tomorrow, the scenarios that lead to unstable conditions or unsustainable futures, and the rewards that flow to compromise and collegiality.

We can reshape the cost curve and tame the budget rise. STRONGER is the approach. Better will be the results for all.

TASC stands for Toward A Stronger Community. Informa-tion: