Editorial: Yes on the budget, but…

Like this year’s presidential campaign, Wilton’s budget season has seen its share of turmoil.

There has been a steady drumbeat of those promulgating against the budget.

There have been warnings that voting down the budget would be perilous to education.

And then there have been Hartford’s own budget woes that have stirred the pot into a sticky, messy stew.

It could have gone a lot better. Our community could have done with more explanation and less posturing.

It is not at all clear how the boards of selectmen and education will respond if the state cuts as much as it has threatened.

The bottom line is, as it stands, taxpayers are facing a 1.89% increase in their tax rate. When taxes are as high as they are here, every percentage point has an impact.

But at this point, the mill rate cannot be increased.

Because of this, it would seem prudent to approve the budget with the understanding that shortfalls would be met with belt-tightening, not dipping into reserves. Losing a AAA rating would make future bonding even more expensive.

This year, the Board of Selectmen managed to put forward a budget with a slight decrease from last year, while the school budget saw an increase. Going forward, the school district and Board of Education owe it to taxpayers to be as prudent as possible. This is a public, not a private, school system and we are financing a high school, not a college.

There have been many inadequately answered questions such as why do costs go up as enrollment goes down? Are our special education dollars being spent as effectively as they could? It is very troubling to read, as reported on page 9A, that 75% of Wilton administrators and 47% of PPT (Planning and Placement Team) staff disagree that “the criteria for IEP eligibility are clear and well understood by all involved.” (IEPs are individual education plans for special education students.)

No one wants to diminish what is an excellent school system. But it is not the only thing Wilton needs to pay for. And it seems clear Wilton will get little help from the state in the future paying for anything.

The bonded projects are easier calls. They should both be approved. The road restoration project begun four years ago should continue. Money for road maintenance in the town’s operating budget would be easy prey at a time like this, but maintaining infrastructure is vital.

As for the high school football field, the turf needs to be replaced and so it should be. However, no future “gifts” of turf fields should be accepted until a firm plan is in place to alleviate taxpayers of replacement costs.

Remember, the budget will pass automatically if fewer than 15% of the electorate votes. The bonded items pass on a straight yes or no.