Public engagement encouraged for budget hearings

The Wilton community will have an opportunity to voice its opinion regarding the municipal and school budgets at two public hearings next week. The school budget will be presented Monday, March 28, and the municipal budget Tuesday, March 29. Both public hearings begin at 7:30 p.m. at Middlebrook School auditorium, 131 School Road.

The Board of Selectmen has proposed a municipal budget of $32.4 million for fiscal year 2017, a 0.05% decrease over the current budget.

An $81-million education budget has been proposed by the Board of Education, representing a 1.27% increase over the current fiscal year.

In both cases, members of the public will once again have an opportunity to listen to a brief summary of the budget and ask questions. They will also have the chance to make recommendations to the Board of Finance about the spending proposals for 2016-17.

For the school budget hearing on Monday, the Board of Education is hoping for a better turnout than seen at its last budget hearing in January, which started off with only five people in attendance and didn’t grow much larger.

Fearing cuts by the Board of Finance, Board of Education Chairman Bruce Likly has called on Wilton residents to show their support of the budget. Last year, there were more “no” votes than “yes” votes at the conclusion of the budget referendum, but because of the 15% rule — which dictates that the budget passes when turnout is less than 15% of the electorate — the budget passed.

“This is a not a good way to ‘win’,” he said at the March 10 board meeting. Since last year’s vote, Likly said, the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen have “essentially taken the fact that the actual number of no votes exceeded the number of yes votes as a mandate to drive budgets lower.

“I like lower taxes as much as the next person, and this is all well and good in some cases,” said Likly, “but when our teacher’s contract alone increases by almost 3% and we have inflation to deal with, a 1.27% budget request is already an amazing feat.”

Likly said unless 2,000 or more people show up to the school budget hearing on March 28 and the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 3, “the school budget will be cut by the Board of Finance — because they think ‘you’ want them to cut our current budget instead of raising taxes.”

The Board of Finance cannot make actual cuts to either budget, but can request cuts by a dollar amount, leaving actual cuts to the either the Board of Selectmen or Board of Education.