Taxpayer survey results will guide Wilton finance board
A long-awaited survey of Wilton taxpayers has been completed.
The survey asked questions such as the reasons people moved to Wilton, opinions on school performance and spending, the level of support for town services, and opinions on spending increases.
Because turnout at Annual Town Meetings has been relatively low over the years, the Board of Finance spearheaded the survey in an effort to reach out to taxpayers to find out their spending priorities.
Results of the survey were presented at a meeting of the finance board on Dec. 18. The board will use information gleaned from the survey as it works through the 2019-20 budget process.
A subcommittee was formed by the finance board in February to oversee development and implementation of the survey.
Subcommittee members were Richard Creeth of the finance board, who acted as subcommittee chairman, Deborah McFadden from the Board of Selectmen, Deborah Low from the Board of Education, John Kelly from the Economic Development Commission and David Rothstein, citizen volunteer and owner of RTi Research, which conducted the survey.
The anonymous survey was conducted online, starting Oct. 9 and ending Nov. 5. Creeth said the subcommittee tried to get as many Wilton taxpayers of all ages to participate in the survey, encouraging them through local print and online media, school communications, social media, and posters at the YMCA, library, senior center and polling places on Election Day.
When initially planning the survey, Creeth said he hoped to get at least 350 responses. Results far exceeded that goal, with 1,411 people responding.
Based on Wilton’s estimated population of 11,847, the 1,411 survey participants represent 11.9% of the town’s 25 and older population.
A breakdown of survey respondents by age group, shows the majority were in the 25 to 49 age demographic:
- Age 25 to 49: 697 responses, 49% of survey respondents.
- Age 50 to 64: 494 responses, 35% of survey respondents.
- Age 65 and older: 220 responses, 16% of survey respondents.
- 50% of the respondents were male and 50% were female.
- 56% have children in Wilton public schools.
- 18% have children not in Wilton public schools.
- 10% have children younger than kindergarten.
- 28% have no children living in the household.
- 20% reported an annual income of less than $150,000.
- 19% reported an annual income of $150,000 - $249,000.
- 17% reported an annual income of $250,000 - $399,000.
- 19% reported an annual income of $400,000 or more.
- 25% preferred not to say.
Because there were only four responses from the 18- to 25-age group, those were not included in the survey results.
Creeth and Rothstein explained the results to the board.
The biggest factors attracting people to Wilton, according to the survey, were the schools (81%) and affordability of housing compared to similar neighboring towns (50%).
Seventy-six percent of respondents who moved to Wilton for the schools said the schools had met or exceeded their expectations.
Respondents who moved to Wilton for its relative affordability were equally satisfied with the town’s performance, with 77% reporting their affordability expectations have been met or exceeded, especially among 25- to 49-year-olds (87%).
Sixty-nine percent of respondents believe the Wilton school district should be ranked in the top of its District Reference Group, DRG1, a grouping of towns by socio-economic status. In addition to Wilton, DRG1 includes New Canaan, Weston, Wilton, Westport, Easton, Darien, Ridgefield and Redding.
When asked their perceptions of current school performance, 39% believe Wilton schools are currently among the top few within the DRG, while 51% say Wilton is “in the middle of the pack.”
Thirty-four percent support of responders support the current level of spending for the schools while 18% believe it is too low. A significant minority think it is too high (41%). The support is highest among those with children in the schools and lowest among those without (41%).
There was an overall perception that Wilton’s taxes are higher than neighboring towns. Sixty-four percent of survey respondents believe Wilton’s taxes are higher than Darien, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston and Westport. Twenty-three percent believed taxes were about the same as those towns, and 5% believed Wilton’s taxes were less.
Fifty-five percent of respondents would be open to paying 1% more in taxes (not strongly opposed) in order to ensure their desired performance goal for the schools was met. This number decreases to 19% for a 5% tax increase. Openness to higher taxes supporting school performance is generally stronger among younger citizens and those with children in the schools.
Using shared services (79%) and investment in economic development (70%) are widely supported as potential ways to reduce property taxes. However, only a third (32%) of those with interest in economic development indicate support for hiring a full-time economic development manager.
Economic development investment was one area where 27% of respondents they would increase the amount of funding. Schools, the other most popular area for increased funding also got the nod from 27% of respondents.
Respondents strongly support shared services (Police 61%, Town Hall services 69%, Transfer Station 85%) as a way of controlling costs.
Almost everyone (97% of respondents) expressed satisfaction with Wilton’s police department regarding public safety.
After the presentation, the board voted to accept the subcommittee’s survey report and said it will continue to review the responses.