Wilton selectmen devise budget scenarios from flat to -10 percent
WILTON — The Board of Selectmen has come up with four budget scenarios for the FY 2021 budget, ranging from a flat budget to a 10-percent decrease from the current fiscal year.
The proposed budgets, along with explanations for the cuts, are being submitted by First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice to the Board of Finance for its review. The finance board meets tonight, May 12, to vote on proposed budgets and a mill rate.
With the Annual Town Meeting canceled this year in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Board of Selectmen charged the finance board with adopting the town and school budgets. After allowing for time to hear from the public, it will meet again on June 1 to adopt the budgets and set the mill rate.
Before the pandemic hit Connecticut, the selectmen proposed a $33.9-million budget for 2021, an increase of 1.22 percent.
The finance board asked both the town and Board of Education to come up with budget proposals that were flat, and decreased by 2, 5, and 10 percent.
To keep the town budget flat at $33,501,999, more than $400,000 in net reductions were made, including a 20-percent cut of $30,000 to the first selectwoman’s salary, which Vanderslice volunteered.
At a special Board of Selectmen meeting Monday night, Vanderslice said she did not expect the finance board to cut the budget by 10 percent.
“As far as 5 and 10 percent (reductions), the way I am going to present it is in terms of the number of employees that would be reduced. They (finance board) have said it is unlikely there will be a 10-percent cut. Seriously, if they are looking at a 10-percent cut I will give them more details,” she said.
In addition to operating cuts, capital projects such as the police department/town hall building project, and replacement of the stadium track at Wilton High School are being put on hold.
Refurbishment of a ladder truck for the fire department and road paving will go on the November ballot.
The most discussion by the board involved cutting the grants given to Wilton Library and Trackside Teen Center.
Wilton Library, a private, nonprofit institution, is funded through donations for its collection, and receives an annual grant from the town of Wilton to cover most of its operating expenses.
For the flat budget, the grant to Wilton Library would be $2,797,846, $56,300 less than its original request of $2,854,156.
In a 2-percent decreased budget, the grant would be $2,697,105, $314,102 less than the original request.
In a 5-percent decreased budget, it would be $2,197,105, $657,051 less than the original request.
In a 10-percent decreased budget, it would be $1,917,105, $937,051 less than the original request.
A letter from the library board of directors, read at the beginning of the meeting, said cutting the library grant to $2,697,000, as proposed in the 2-percent decreased budget, would have “a significant negative impact on the library services we provide to the community.”
For Trackside Teen Center, the proposed grant in the original budget was $65,334, which was already $32,366 less than the grant request of $98,000.
In the flat budget proposal, the grant was cut by $10,000 to $55,334.
The grant was reduced to zero in the 2- to 10-percent decrease proposals.
Forrest Close, president of the board of directors of Trackside, expressed “dire concern” in an email, “The complete defunding of Trackside could be a lethal blow. Any cuts beyond $10,000 could realistically result in us closing our doors soon.”
The selectmen acknowledged the importance of both the library and Trackside to the Wilton community.
However, facing daunting budget cuts, they said both Wilton Library and Trackside had the ability to raise funds to keep their staff and operations going, where the town did not.
“We need to fund town employees for essential services,” said Selectwoman Deborah McFadden.
“In a pandemic we cannot cut the Health Department ... or the assessor. We have to be careful cutting police ... and the town clerk’s office is busy now,” Vanderslice said.
There would be deeper overall cuts made in a -2-percent budget request, which would be $32,831,959, $670,040 less than the flat budget.
Under that scenario, in addition to the cuts made in the flat budget, vacant town positions would remain unfilled, nonemergency staff hours would be reduced, nonemergency training would be eliminated, the Merwin Meadows swim program would be eliminated, and the transfer station would be closed, with trash services being provided by another town or private haulers.
A 5-percent budget decrease would be $31,826,899, $1,675,100 less than the flat budget.
Under that scenario, “everything just slows down,” Vanderslice said. Town staff would be decreased, fewer roads would get paved and there would be a slowdown in replacing town vehicles, in addition to cuts made in the 2-percent budget decrease.
A 10-percent budget decrease would be $30,151,799, $3,350,200 less than the flat budget.
Additional staff would be eliminated. Infrastructure would lose funds, and services such as the library would no longer be free for residents. “The 10-percent decrease puts us on the edge of the precipice,” said Selectman Joshua Cole.
“We would do business differently. If we got that bad, we may end up with state government running everything and Connecticut would be very different,” Vanderslice said.
Editor’s Note: The story was edited to delete positions that are not on the chopping block.