With lowest turnout in 25 years, voters approve Wilton budget

Wilton passed its fiscal year 2022 budget after hosting a hearing and a vote on May 8 and 15 respectfully.

Wilton passed its fiscal year 2022 budget after hosting a hearing and a vote on May 8 and 15 respectfully.

Contributed Photo /

WILTON — Residents approved the town’s budget this weekend, although only 4.2 percent of voters participated — the lowest turnout in at least 25 years.

The 2022 fiscal year budget was approved Saturday with 415 votes in favor and 114 opposed. A total of 531 residents — 4.2 percent of the town’s registered voters — participated in Saturday’s vote.

The turnout was the lowest since at least 1996, according to data compiled by Board of Finance Chairman Jeffrey Rutishauser. While there was no public vote in 2020 due to the pandemic, each election from 1996 to 2019 saw higher turnout and only three other elections saw single percentage output from registered voters. The second-lowest turnout total was 2013 with 6.9 percent.

“Turnout (has been) the lowest during that period,” First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said. “The decline in turnout isn't surprising considering last year's tax decrease, the 2022 mill rate being below the FY 2020 mill rate and the distraction of the pandemic.”

Vanderslice said last year's 3.77 percent tax decrease “had a significant impact not only on taxpayers’ bills, but also their confidence in their local government.”

The total approved operating budget is $128,788,862, which is up slightly from fiscal year 2021 when the operating budget was $127,244,488.

The town’s mill rate of 27.9 went up slightly from last year’s 27.5 in the adopted FY2021 budget, but is down over a two-year period from the FY2020 budget.

Despite the low turnout, Vanderslice was pleased with the voters’ response to the budget and referendums. There were no surprises, she said.

“Generally, a handful of residents actively speak out against the budget and about one-third of voters vote against the budget. This year, we didn't hear any opposition to the budget, so we were expecting a higher positive vote. Those folks had been advocating for a tax cut. Maybe they were happy once they received last year's tax cut,” Vanderslice said. “Town department heads and the school administration put forth well thought-out and responsible budgets and, just as we did last year, the three boards worked to together collaboratively to bring a reasonable budget and mill rate to the voters.”

The first selectwoman credited sound communication between departments to “easily provide even greater transparency for the public,” and being able to present to the Board of Selectmen more often using Zoom.

She also lauded the efforts of Anne Kelly-Lenz, who serves as the town and schools CFO. “From day one, she had the qualifications and experience to handle both,” Vanderslice said.

In addition to the budget, voters also approved several line items, including road and restoration, the Bridge Replacement Program, an aerial fire truck replacement, replacing Middlebrook Middle School’s tennis courts and the school district’s roof replacement program.

Each of the line items passed by an average of 369 votes.

The totals for the line items, which were all unanimously recommended by the town, were listed at $1.5 million for road restoration, $538,000 for the Bridge Replacement Program, $1.5 million for the aerial fire truck replacement, $350,000 for Middlebrook tennis courts and $600,000 for the school district’s roof replacement program.

As for the completion of these projects, timetables will vary.

“All will be acted upon immediately, but the timing for completion for each varies,” Vanderslice said. “For example, the funding for the roads will be fairly immediate, but the bridges will be dependent on the timing of state grant approvals.”