Wilton Board of Finance candidate: Chris Stroup
Chris Stroup spent four years on the Board of Education in the earlier part of this decade, experience he believes would serve him well should he be elected to the Board of Finance.
While he was on the education board, he served on the operations committee, working closely with members of the Board of Finance to ensure they understood how the Board of Education provided oversight to the Wilton public schools, particularly around spending.
An accountant by training, the unaffiliated candidate was a certified public accountant, chief financial officer of a publicly traded company — experience that enables him to be labeled a financial expert — and he started his firm Wilton RE, which deals in specialty life insurance, 15 years ago.
“The Board of Finance has been quite anxious for a number of years about the amount of money we spend as a town,” he told The Bulletin last week, “and some members of the Board of Finance are somewhat concerned about the amount we spend to educate our children.”
Stroup thinks the biggest challenge for the Board of Finance is to seek input from citizens in making its decisions. Some information comes from a survey the board conducted last year, an exercise he believes should have been done for years. Relatively few attend the public hearings on the budgets or the Annual Town Meeting and fewer speak up. And, there is scant information that comes from the budget vote.
“It’s a real challenge for the Board of Finance to understand what the town’s priorities, in fact, are,” he said. “They sometimes make what I would describe as blanket statements — things like ‘we can’t afford,’ which I think is more often expressed as a personal view as opposed to the consensus of the town.”
“We need to find a way to reach a consensus that represents the broadest possible number of citizens in making these decisions because they’re just value judgments,” he added.
“Many things can be done. It’s just a question of what people want to get done.
“We shouldn’t confuse ability and choice or ability and desire,” he said. “We need to work harder soliciting input from a broader number of our citizens.”
“There’s a big group that presumably has a view and we don’t know what it is,” he said, citing low voter turnout for budgets.
That’s a problem, he said, because over a long period of time, “decisions we make about our spending priorities will have an increasingly important impact on our town — how much we spend on schools, the quality of the education, how much of our grand list is commercial development vs. residential development, how that changes the character of the town, what we do to help our seniors remain in town when they shift to fixed income, in any given year it’s hard to say a single decision will be monumental but in time these decisions will have an impact on the quality of life here in town.”
The Board of Education can help, he said, with longer-term spending plans. It has not presented a well-documented five-year operating plan. It’s a useful process and the output would be a useful tool for both the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen, he said.
On the municipal side, he said the Board of Selectmen has been effective in articulating its needs for spending.
“I would love for more dialog around spending levels as opposed to mill rates and tax rates because that, unfortunately, I think confuses people,” he said. “Our per pupil spending, our per capita spending whether it’s for education or public services is broadly comparable to all our surrounding towns. The reason our mill rate is higher than others is because of the value of our real estate.”
Being unaffiliated, as most voters in Wilton are, Stroup said he is not beholden to any party line, although he supports the Democrats.
Stroup says he is stepping up because he has the time. “I love the town and I think that those that have the ability to volunteer ought to do so.” He’s lived here 25 years “and isn’t going anywhere.”