Wilton boards put off final budget decisions
WILTON — Officials from the boards of education, finance and selectmen met online Thursday night, April 9, to discuss the potential budget implications of COVID-19, as well as related stressors.
“As far as the current budget (goes), we do think the $457,000 in favorability that we have now will be enough,” First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said.
“But we do have concerns about our fiscal 20-21 budget,” she said, primarily because ultimate virus-related costs are still unknown and revenues may be problematic in the coming months.
“If this continues past June 30th we’re obviously going to have expenses that weren’t budgeted,” she said.
Board of Education Chair Deborah Low outlined potential financial issues relating to both new technology costs associated with e-learning, and also contract struggles with the district bus provider Student Transportation of America (STA).
“The biggest unknown at this point that will have an impact on our end-of-year balance is the bus contract,” she said. “That’s still being negotiated.”
“As everybody knows, that’s a huge expense,” she said, running $288,000 a month.
Low said the company has already laid off its workers, but the board had intended to keep paying for their salaries.
“It’s a little, as I understand it, murky,” she said, but noted negotiations were underway with the company to include additional questions of costs involving maintenance, fuel and ancillary expenses.
Low said, however, “Very much, in a nutshell, we anticipate by the Board of Ed a favorable balance by the end of the year.”
“By the April 23rd meeting (we expect) we’ll have a solid projection,” said Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith, explaining that while there are savings coming through line items like substitute teacher costs, compensatory special education service costs could mount significantly.
“Per the governor’s directive and the federal guidelines as well, we are responding to our students with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) as best we can,” he said.
“The cost of that is as yet unknown and I think it’ll be some time before we know the extent of the magnitude,” he said.
Low said meeting those needs would carry over into the summer school program in next year’s budget and, in the worst-case scenario, could more than double that cost.
The Boards of Education and Selectmen will now have a month to meet and revise their budgets, with the Board of Finance intending to settle on a final number at its May 12 meeting.
This, in turn, will give the public two weeks to share their comments with it through email, and still allow final approval to come before the June 4 deadline.
“We likely will have to tweak some of the revenue numbers but otherwise we should have everything else,” Vanderslice said.
Finance Chair Jeffrey Rutishauser said his board would try to provide feedback to the selectmen and school board by May 1 to help each in its work.
“We could always have another tri-board meeting if we felt we needed to do that,” Vanderslice said.
Several board members expressed worry about trends in unemployment and how they may affect revenue. Vanderslice said the state is unable, at this time, to provide numbers by municipality, but did share the news that unemployment compensation is going to be slow to come for those who have applied.
“We’re going to have to make educated guesses on how well people can pay their tax bill,” Rutishauser said, noting the information was largely anecdotal at this time about how Wiltonians were faring.
It was suggested that larger area businesses be surveyed in order for the town to get some perspective on whether residents have been laid off.
“We can ask,” Vanderslice said. “They don’t have to answer.”
Otherwise, she said overall the town is doing well, excepting the issue of people using the playing fields when they’re not allowed—something she called “the bane of my existence.”
“I think we’ve done a really good job as a community,” she said, praising her staff and, in particular, Barrington Bogle, director of health.
“He might be tougher than other public health directors, but I think we’re seeing the fruits of his approach,” she said.
Financier Peter Balderston suggested the three boards continue meeting every two weeks to stay in touch—something to which others agreed.
“Things are moving so quickly,” he said.
Board members also applauded Vanderslice for her nightly email, which several people said they drew comfort from, for it helped assuage their isolation and stress.
“We’re all suffering from anxiety,” said Michael Kaelin, finance board member. “It’s not just the kids.”