Statistics show there are more deaths in the affluent suburb of Wilton than there are births, a trend that has been consistent over the last six years and could change the social pattern.
There were 137 deaths in Wilton in 2016, according to data on file with the office of the town clerk, compared with 120 births for the same year.
The ratio between deaths and births fluctuates even more widely from year to year. In 2012, the year of uncertainty when President Barack Obama was running for re-election, there were 183 deaths, compared with only about 85 births.
It’s a mixed bag for the long term, if in-migration does not keep up with out-migration, an economics professor said.
“If the in-migration outweighs the out-migration, I believe that it signifies that the people moving into Wilton are not young couples just beginning to settle down, to capture the benefits of a good school system and other amenities provided to residents, but instead more established families and retirees,” said Steven Glazer of Norwalk Community College.
There is an advantage to having an older population, though. “These individuals have a higher disposable income and they have accumulated wealth that they will likely spend in Wilton and neighboring communities,” Glazer said.
Without knowing the demographic breakdown of Wilton’s population, Glazer could only say that a wealthier, older population is an indicator of the higher cost of living in Fairfield County towns like Wilton.
The number of births and the number of families with children moving to town are major factors for the school population. Overall student enrollment was studied extensively in 2015 by the firm Milone & MacBroom and was projected at that time to decline in the Wilton school district over the next eight years, with the most dramatic decline projected to occur in the first five years.
According to the firm’s report, over the eight-year window, kindergarten through second grade enrollment is projected to decline between 5.3% and 8.5%, while third through fifth grade enrollment is projected to decline between 23.1% and 25.9%.
Sixth through eighth grade enrollment is expected to decline sharply, according to the report, which projects declines between 16.2% and 20.8% by the end of the eight-year window.
Enrollment declines at the high school level “are not projected to materialize for the next few years, but a drop-off in enrollments is expected to occur beginning around 2018-19.”
Over the eight-year period, total declines projected in Milone & MacBroom’s report range from 8.8% to 14.8%.
The effect of having more deaths than births goes further than that. It is a subject that First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice thinks a lot about.
Vanderslice cited the U.S. Census as reporting that Wilton’s age 55 and older population grew by 34% from 2000 to 2015. Within Fairfield County the growth rate for the same period was 26%. At the same time, Wilton's age 9 and younger population declined. The result was that in 2015, Wilton’s 65 and older population was approximately the same size as Wilton’s age 9 and younger population.
“By 2025, both Wilton’s and Fairfield County’s age 55 and older populations are projected to grow by another 26%. It is these demographic changes which have driven demand for alternative housing options, including age-restricted housing, continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities,” Vanderslice told The Bulletin.
As a community, Wilton needs to decide how to address this major societal change, she said. “Will we be forward looking like those residents who years ago transitioned Wilton from an agricultural community to a suburban community as a result of societal changes? Are we willing to allow appropriately planned alternative housing in areas accessible to sewer and water?” Vanderslice asked.
The time to consider and answer those questions is now, Vanderslice said, because developers are interested in building these residential communities, despite stagnant grand list growth and fiscal uncertainty throughout the state.
“Last week, the Wilton Pollution Control Authority, which is considering a sewer extension application for the town’s first proposed age-restricted community, referred the matter to Planning & Zoning for comment. (See related story on page 1A.) The WPCA recognized that the proposed community would fill an unmet need. The project and possible other future projects could mean $400,000 to $700,000 per year in additional tax revenue with minimal increases in town services,” Vanderslice said.
The first selectman is calling on residents to think about the best path to move forward.