Wilton finance board wants to be more involved in budget process

File photo of finance board chairman Michael Kaelin and member Stewart Koenigsberg.

File photo of finance board chairman Michael Kaelin and member Stewart Koenigsberg.

Jarret Liotta / For Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — The Board of Finance didn’t outright say it would be recommending budget guidance for the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen for the upcoming fiscal year, but some members openly spoke of the benefits it could provide.

It’s a noticeable shift from roughly this time last year when the board was unanimously against setting pre-budget targets or guidance.

The goal is to be more transparent and have more BOF involvement in the budget process, specifically for the school board, finance board members said at their recent meeting.

“More involvement in their process is a much better idea than waiting until the end of that process, to be given a presentation,” BOF member Stewart Koenigsberg said.

BOF members were quick to dispel any notion that the board was looking to cut money from the school budget.

This year, the Board of Finance did cut $893,000 from the BOE budgetary ask, but approved a budget that was more than $3 million higher than the previous year’s budget.

“We actually had a three-plus million dollar increase in the budget and the narrative that was sent out was that the Board of Finance cut the budget,” said BOF member Rich Santosky. “While we asked for a reduction in the increase, there was still a pretty substantial increase in the budget, so we didn’t really cut anything.”

Finance board Chairman Michael Kaelin said one of his long-standing frustrations while serving on the BOF has been nudging the BOE to be more creative with its budgets.

Unlike with the Board of Selectmen budget, the BOF has no jurisdiction over line items in the school budget. That includes the amount of money allocated for the district’s specific initiatives.

Kaelin and Koenigsberg discussed the possibility of posing specific questions to the school board members as they begin their budget drafting process. Maybe, the pair spitballed, the finance board could ask the BOE what the consequences were to reformatting certain positions and consolidating certain district efforts.

“We’re saying that instead of leaving it to them to tell us what they’re going to cut, we can ask them, ‘Well what if you got rid of some of the administrators?’” Kaelin said. “We can ask them about things like ‘What would the consequences be of cutting this item or that item or eliminating that program,’ and that will force them to justify the program.”

Fellow member Matt Raimondi warned against “poking holes” in the BOE budget and creating any semblance of tension between boards, something he thought would be counteractive and that Koenigsberg agreed he’d want to avoid.

BOE Chairwoman Deb Low has previously invited finance board members to sit in her budget workshops, which Koenigsberg did.

He also suggested a series of regular meetings for the BOF to summarize those workshops and plan for what questions to ask at the the next BOE budget workshop, adding that the montlhy BOF meetings might not be enough.

Raimondi said it’s likely the town’s mill rate will have to increase by at least one percent next fiscal year due to the debt service. The board also described a scenario where it could give each board very general mill rate targets and projections and ask them to budget accordingly.

The Board of Finance will continue its conversation at its next meeting.