Wilton budget proposal remains unchanged

With the cloud of Hartford hovering over the town, Wilton residents made their way to Wilton High School’s Clune Center for the Annual Town Meeting Tuesday night. Click here to view a video of the meeting.

In recent months the looming impact of Hartford has led to tough financial decisions. The Board of Finance (BOF) cut both the Board of Education (BOE) and Board of Selectmen (BOS) proposed budgets to maintain a zero-percent increase for both.

While residents barely mentioned the BOS budget, the BOE budget became the topic of discussion for the meeting. Originally the BOE proposed a budget of $82,983,607, which fell below the 1.6-percent budget increase guidance recommended by the BOF. Despite the $1.1 million cut to this proposal, there was still some opposition.

Alex Ruskewich, founder of the watchdog group Sensible Wilton, sought to reduce the school district's budget more. Citing declining enrollments and rising costs for teachers, Ruskewich called for the budget to be reduced by $1.5 million.

"With respect to payment, the Wilton teachers are very good," Ruskewich said. "But they’re also the fourth most expensive in the state."

However, the motion to reduce the school budget was met with widespread opposition from residents.

Resident Stephen Hudspeth said he was firmly against the cut.

“It would be a disaster to take this budget any lower than it is now,” Hudspeth said.

He added that the BOE was already having to work with a bare-bones budget. He also addressed the rising costs for teachers. Hudspeth attributed the rising salaries to the longevity of teachers' careers in Wilton.

“This is what we get when we have long-term retention and that’s an enormous benefit for the town, the students and all of us," he said.

Gail Moskow, a longtime resident, echoed Hudspeth's sentiments and said she was also against the cut.

"Obviously the schools require tax money, but I believe it is by far the best use of our taxes," she said.

Moskow said the cost burden of the schools was a task for every resident. With past generations shouldering the burden, she said she was ready to do her part.

"When we moved here years ago, senior citizens gladly paid taxes so our girls could receive an education," Moskow said. "Life comes full circle. It is now our turn."

By the time the meeting adjourned a little after 9 p.m., no motions or amendments were ultimately approved, and the budgets remained the same. Wilton voters will have another chance to vote for or against the $126.7 million budget, of which $81.8 million would go towards the school district, on Saturday, May 11 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Clune Center. Absentee ballots are available beginning Wednesday, May 8 until Friday, May 10, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.; absentee ballots must be returned by 4:30 p.m. on Friday.