Wilton finance board leans toward tax deferment, grapples with budgets
WILTON — The Board of Selectmen has a decision to make.
To assist taxpayers affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ned Lamont issued Executive Order 7S which orders municipalities to offer either a 90-day tax deferment, a 3-percent low-interest rate program or both.
The selectmen will decide on the programs at a meeting on Tuesday, April 21, which will be live streamed.
The Board of Finance discussed both programs at a meeting on Tuesday, April 14, and a sense of the meeting preferred the 90-day tax deferment.
Both programs apply to all property taxes, whether real estate, motor vehicle or personal property.
To be eligible for the 90-day tax deferment, residents must have a 20-percent reduction in household income and since March 10, 2020, must be one or more due to the COVID-19 emergency: furloughed without pay; had their work hours significantly reduced; or be unemployed.
For a business or a nonprofit to be eligible, revenue must be expected to decrease at least 30 percent in the March to June 2020 period versus the March to June 2019 period.
Landlords can also qualify for the deferment if they have or will suffer significant income decline, or they offer a commensurate forbearance to tenants.
In order to qualify for the deferment, taxpayers need to sign an affidavit attesting to their eligibility.
There are no qualifications for the 3-percent low-interest rate program. The program calls for a 3-percent interest rate on delinquent taxes (as opposed to 18 percent).
Finance board members agreed the deferment program was more preferable as it targeted those with the greater need and likely offered less financial risk to the town.
“The deferment helps people who really need it,” First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice told the board.
“The deferment program is better for the town and for people who have had specific hardship from COVID-19,” agreed finance board chairman Jeff Rutishauser.
Board member Peter Balderston said knowing the number of taxpayers applying for deferment would be a helpful indicator of “what’s going on in Wilton,” as the finance board readies the final budget numbers and the mill rate.
There will be no annual town meeting to vote on the budgets this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the finance board will approve the final budget numbers for the town and schools.
Before coming up with the final budget numbers, the board is taking into account how the coronavirus is affecting the town’s current and future revenues and expenses, and how residents are being affected financially.
To that end, the board has asked the selectmen and school board to review their budget proposals and resubmit them.
The finance board is holding a special meeting on Monday, April 20, to discuss budget scenarios in order to issue guidance to the boards. The meeting will be conducted via videoconference. The agenda does not yet have information on how to view it.
In February, the school board approved a $83,989,144 budget for fiscal year 2021, a 2.58 percent increase over the current year.
The Board of Selectmen had agreed on a $33,911,800 operating budget, a 1.22-percent increase.
Finance board member Stewart Koenigsberg said there are a number of factors to consider, such as how the town is impacted as well as how painful it is for the tax base and constituents. “None of us knows how this turns out,” he said.
Balderston mentioned possible school and town hiring freezes. “What is fair and equitable? Some people are losing their jobs, how do you fairly spread that pain in a manner that keeps them marching along until they get through this? I hope the schools and town will give options to manage financials to lower expenses,” he said.
“We need to look at all parts of this,” said board member Michael Kaelin. “The economic forecast is that it is going to be bad, really bad. We need to find out from the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen how reductions in expenses will affect services. Government services in times like this are more in demand,” he said. “I’m concerned.”
“I’ve heard from people to either keep the budgets flat or take a huge ax to them,” said board member Kevin Gardiner. “I thought the budgets proposed prior to COVID were reasonable and would like to see if there is room to cut, and if so, what would be the consequences,” he said.
Vanderslice said the selectmen could give a list of possible reductions for the town budget, and could classify them as things to do immediately, such as putting on hold the parking lot project proposed for Schenck’s Island. “There are other things we can do, too,” she said.
Koenigsberg suggested the school board consider deferring $600,000 planned for capital improvements.
School board chair Deb Low called in to the meeting and said her board could provide different scenarios, too. By April 23, she said the board will have its year-end balance numbers which could make a difference.