Wilton finance board OKs 1.49% tax rate hike

Jeffrey Rutishauser and the Board of Finance voted unaninmously to pass the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen budgets.

Jeffrey Rutishauser and the Board of Finance voted unaninmously to pass the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen budgets.

Contributed Photo /

WILTON — The Board of Finance has approved a 1.49 percent tax rate increase for the next fiscal year, a decision which now heads for final approval at the annual town hall meeting in May.

The hike to 27.86 mills reflects a $84,804,215 budget for the Board of Education (up $2,459,652 from last year) and $33,485,486 for the town (an increase of $569,762). A mill rate, according to the state’s Office of Policy and Management, is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment.

Many at last week’s meeting to finalize the budget agreed the extra funding was warranted.

“The Board of Education and Board of Selectmen had to take responsibility for a number of extraordinary challenges,” Chairman Jeffrey Rutishauser said. “We have weathered the last 12 months of COVID. We can now see the shore we set sail for last June.”

Commissioner Kevin Gardiner added that the increase in appropriation was “reasonable” due to the amount of factors at play.

“The Board of Selectmen are incredible public servants,” Commissioner Stewart Koenigsberg said. “I think the entire town owes them a debt of gratitude. I believe the work they are doing with consolidation is worthy of praise.”

Koenigsberg also said the school board, despite going through an “incredibly difficult year,” should be praised for its ability to understand budgetary needs in real time.

The BOE will not need to return to the finance board for supplemental funds, according to Wilton Superintendent Kevin Smith, who sat in on the meeting.

“We will likely be able to cover the outstanding COVID costs through our current operating expenditures,” he said, “therefore, we won’t need to come back to the Board of Finance.”

Town CFO Anne Kelly-Lenz, who works on both the town and school side, explained that the BOE will tentatively be adding $1 million back from the reserve that it did not use — and will most likely not need to use — to fund the rest of the school year.

“We knew we had savings in transportation, athletics, conferences, liability carrier insurance, repair and maintenance, and operating and general supplies. In freezing the budget, we made sure that we addressed educational needs, PPE and anything that affected students or teachers and the environment,” Kelly-Lenz said. “We made sure that was fully funded and we held back everything else.”

“Now, as time has gone on, we have two months basically left in the (academic) year. We feel we can cover it,” she added.

The mill rate will be further discussed at the next BOF meeting, according to the chairman.

“In terms of the process and the role of the Board of Finance, I think it is our job to look at every single line item and to ask tough questions of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education to satisfy ourselves that these expenses are really necessary,” said Commissioner Michael Kaelin. “We have done that, and they have done a good job.”