Wilton finance board proposes flat school and decreased town budgets
WILTON — The word “flexible” was frequently spoken at last night’s Board of Finance meeting.
The board approved tentative FY 2021 budget proposals for the town and schools, but is waiting to get public comment from residents before finalizing the budgets and mill rate on June 1.
The board is recommending a $32,831,959 budget for the town, representing a 2-percent decrease from the current fiscal year.
It is recommending keeping the education budget flat to the current fiscal year at $82,344,563.
A tentative mill rate is being recommended at 27.4343, a 3.87-percent reduction.
The board also agreed to hold $2,969,160 in its charter authority reserve fund, significantly larger than past years’ reserves, for flexibility in order to handle the coming year’s unanticipated fiscal challenges due to COVID-19.
In light of economic uncertainties due to the pandemic, the board had previously asked the selectmen and Board of Education to consider budget proposals with a zero increase, and 2-, 5-, and 10-percent decreases.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice recommended cutting $1.08 million from the town budget proposal, for a 2-percent decrease from the selectmen’s original proposed budget. That budget would have been a 1.22-percent increase over the current year.
The selectmen voted to request the decrease following a special meeting earlier that night. “This is not a normal budget,” Vanderslice told the finance board. “We don’t want to tax people more than we need to tax them. We only want funds for what everyone needs.”
Among the cuts being made to the selectmen’s budget is a $30,000 decrease to Vanderslice’s salary, which she herself proposed.
After initially considering a flat budget, Vanderslice intends to look deeper into the town budget to see if there are more cuts that could be made in order to achieve the 2-percent decrease. “We need to be flexible,” she said.
Parks and Recreation and other town departments, as well as Wilton Library and Trackside Teen Center will be asked what the costs would be if they can’t open until Sept. 1, or Jan. 1, Vanderslice said.
The finance board accepted the selectmen’s budget proposal, with the understanding it may change by June 1, depending on what additional savings the selectmen can uncover.
The board also accepted the recommendation by the school board for a flat budget, but with some reservations.
To get to its flat budget request of $82,344,563 the school board cut $1.6 million from its original request, which would have been a 2.58-percent increase over the current year.
With school building operations currently on hold, there is a substantial unexpected surplus in the current education budget. To get to the flat budget, the school board plans to use money from the surplus to pay for expenses in next year’s budget.
Finance board members did not support this plan. “I don’t believe in spending FY 2020 money in 2021. You are shifting money,” chairman Jeff Rutishauser told school board chair Deb Low.
“We will have unexpected costs,” Low said. “The more things we can try to safely purchase now, will allow us more flexibility. We are in a crisis mode and would not do this in a normal year,” she said.
“It muddies the idea of approving a budget by taking surplus and using it next year. This is the taxpayer’s money. It goes against Budget 101,” Rutishauser said.
“I didn’t know this was needed for the budget to get to flat by the Board of Education,” board member Peter Balderston said. “That the only way they could deliver a flat budget was by spending surplus from this year into next.”
The board ultimately decided to recommend the education budget as flat, as proposed.
“If the public doesn’t support this they can let the Board of Finance know,” board member Michael Kaelin said.
Budget documents from the meeting will be posted on the town’s website. Public comments may be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.