Wilton finance board approves 3.77% mill rate decrease
WILTON — Wilton taxpayers will get some tax relief in the FY2021 budget.
At a meeting Monday night, the Board of Finance tentatively approved an overall budget which will result in a mill rate of 27.4616, a 3.77-percent decrease from the current fiscal year.
The mill rate is the property tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value. If a home is assessed at $700,000, the property taxes would be 700 multiplied by 27.4616 for a total of $19,223.12, compared to $19,976.11 for the current fiscal year.
The board approved $82,344,563 for the Board of Education operating budget, which is flat (zero increase) to the current year.
The board approved $32,915,724 for the Board of Selectmen operating and operating capital budget, a 1.75-percent decrease from the current year.
The selectmen previously proposed a 2-percent decrease for the town budget. They revised it to a 1.75-percent decrease to account for approximately $300,000 in anticipated savings in town employee medical benefits costs if the town switches to the state’s insurance plan.
Those savings will be offset by restoring some of the funding the board planned to cut from the transfer station, Trackside Teen Center, Wilton Library, River Road restoration, and swim programs, resulting in the revised 1.75-percent decrease.
Other items making up the FY2021 budget include:
Debt service: $9,015,040.
Estimated revenues: $4,349,276.
Elderly and disabled tax relief: $1,210,000.
Tax relief for Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Georgetown Fire District: $20,750.
Estimated ending fund balance: $12,724,449, adjusted to $7,719,557.
The town’s grand list was set at $4,281,687,742, and represents the assessed value (70 percent of market value) of all property — real estate, personal property and motor vehicles.
Although the finance board unanimously agreed on these budget figures, it is meeting again tonight at 7 p.m. to finalize them.
The board was charged with adopting the town and school budgets and setting the mill rate after the public Annual Town Meeting was canceled in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In order to gauge the thoughts of taxpayers, the board held a virtual “public hearing” on the budget and posted a six-page budget presentation on the town website in order to solicit public input.
During discussion at Monday’s meeting, finance board chair Jeffrey Rutishauser said approximately 70 percent of email and correspondence received was in favor of the budget the board had presented.
“I’ve served on this board a long time, and this has been the most unusual of all those years by far,” Rutishauser said, “We have had to deal with unknowns we have never had to deal with before.”
He said the biggest uncertainty is the cost of running the school district going forward. “We don’t know if expenses will be higher or lower than budgeted, which is why we need to go in with enough reserves to handle a bigger array of outcomes,” he said.
Michael Kaelin, Kevin Gardiner and Stewart Koenigsberg expressed strong support for both budgets.
Koenigsberg called the flat budget proposed by the Board of Education a “big achievement” relative to prior years.
Peter Balderston, however, was critical about the education budget, noting this was the 12th year there has been declining enrollment in the schools, yet a flat budget increases per pupil expenditures by 2.44 percent.
Looking at other financial factors, Balderston said Wilton was “half as wealthy” as neighboring towns and said the state is in a “freefall financially.” In the end, however, he expressed support for both budgets.
When the budget process is over, member Chris Stroup said he would like to see the town develop contingency plans to fund for possible “extraordinary spending” in 2021 and material reductions in the payment of real estate taxes.
He would also like to see a plan to help those who are unemployed or underemployed. “I think we need to recognize the modest reduction in the mill rate will not provide those households with the support they need where they’ve suffered a profound or protracted reduction in income,” he said.
Before the pandemic hit Connecticut, the Board of Selectmen had adopted a $33.9 million budget for 2021, an increase of 1.22 percent over this year’s budget. The Board of Education had adopted an $84-million budget, a 2.58-percent increase. After shutdowns, unemployment, and economic factors caused by the pandemic, the finance board asked both boards to recalculate their budget proposals at flat, and 2- to 10-percent reductions.