Editorial: Needed changes

Democracy gets down to its most basic form next week with Wilton’s Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 1, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Clune Center on the Wilton High School campus, 395 Danbury Road. Citizens will be asked to consider an overall town spending plan for fiscal year 2019 of more than $127 million (see story on page 1A). Voting will begin in the lobby after the meeting. For those who cannot make the meeting, voting resumes Saturday, May 5, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

As the League of Women Voters emphasized in its column Nobody Told Me That last week, those who do not attend the Annual Town Meeting or participate in the vote allow others to speak for them. At the Town Meeting, questions may be asked, opinions may be given, and motions may be made to reduce a budget line item. Any motions will be voted on by those in the audience. In the past, motions have been made to make cuts. Those who did not attend had no say in the outcome.

In the past, there have been complaints about the way the Town Meeting was run. Fortunately, this year refinements are in place to ensure fair voting and that everyone has their say. But this can only happen if people follow the rules:

  • That colored cards are handed to eligible voters.

  • Voters and guests sit in their designated areas.

  • Members of the audience allow their neighbors adequate opportunity to speak before someone calls for discussion to end.

For the past 10 years or so, the 15% rule has been in place that stipulates if fewer than 15% of voters turn out the budget passes automatically, no matter the tally. A few years ago, had this rule not been in place, the budget would have failed. Last year turnout was 16.2%. The 15% rule should be revisited.

As for how the vote should go: yes on all items.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice and the town’s department heads have done a heroic job in keeping the municipal budget increase to 0.88% in the face of ever-increasing health care costs. With a cut from the Board of Finance, the Board of Education budget increase is down to 1%.

The capital bonding items primarily reflect required maintenance. Roads, a turf field, and the school bus depot all need repairs. These items are not subject to the 15% rule and will pass or fail on an up-or-down vote.

All told, the mill rate increase is 1.51%, which will result in a modest tax increase for property owners.