Wilton spending is competitive

Data from the state Office of Policy and Management (OPM) shows Wilton spends more on education on a per capita basis than some of its neighboring towns with lower mill rates.

When per capita spending is examined, it shows Wilton is on the high side:

  • Ridgefield — $3,404.

  • Westport — $4,066.

  • New Canaan — $4,115.

  • Darien — $4,317.

  • Wilton — $4,329.

  • Weston — $4,802.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice released the data at a Board of Selectmen meeting Aug. 20. The data was compiled by the state Office of Policy Management and is from fiscal year 2016.

When it came to spending per pupil in real dollars, Wilton was in the middle:

  • Ridgefield — $17,013.

  • Darien — $19,314.

  • Wilton — $19,337.

  • New Canaan — $19,576.

  • Westport — $19,800.

  • Weston — $20,759.

Of the six towns, Wilton has the second-highest mill rate but fourth-highest tax levy per capita. Vanderslice noted that Wilton lacks the density, in number of residents per square mile, of those communities with lower mill rates, and Wilton doesn’t have the same high home values per capita as the others. For fiscal year 2016:

  • Darien has a population of 21,744 and a mill rate of 15.35.

  • New Canaan has a population of 20,280 and a mill rate of 15.99.

  • Westport has a population of 27,840 and a mill rate of 18.09.

  • Ridgefield has a population of 25,063 and a mill rate of 26.01.

  • Wilton has a population of 18,560 and a mill rate of 26.83.

  • Weston has a population of 10,302 and a mill rate of 28.67.

The tax levy per capita for each town in fiscal year 2016 was:

  • Ridgefield — $4,844.

  • Darien — $5,895.

  • Wilton — $6,199.

  • New Canaan — $6,433.

  • Weston — $6,520.

  • Westport — $6,566.

Debt service

With two large recent building projects, and a multi-year road paving plan, it is not surprising Wilton had the third-highest total bond debt:

  • Weston — $39.4 million.

  • Darien — $71.5 million.

  • Ridgefield — $79.6 million.

  • Wilton — $87.3 million.

  • Westport — $100.9 million.

  • New Canaan — $120.4 million.

On a per capita basis for debt service, Wilton was in fourth place:

  • Ridgefield — $481.

  • Darien — $527.

  • Wilton — $581.

  • Westport — $617.

  • Weston — $620.

  • New Canaan — $839.

Vanderslice issued the following statement regarding these findings:

“The purpose of this exercise was to help board members and residents better understand the reasons behind the differences in the mill rates among towns and to better understand how other towns spend their property tax dollars. By examining spending in other towns, we hope to identify savings opportunities for Wilton.

“Despite having the second-highest mill rate of the group, Wilton ranked fourth out of six in terms of tax levy per capita in 2016. As the comparative analysis shows, the towns with mill rates that are a third or more lower than Wilton’s have market values per capita which are 70% or more higher than Wilton’s. With higher values, they can apply a much lower mill rate and still collect a similar amount of property tax. That is evident if you consider school spending. According to the state data, Darien, New Canaan, Westport and Wilton all had a similar per-pupil cost in 2016.  

“Municipal expenditures varied per town,” she continued. “Westport and Wilton ranked number one and three in town per-capita spending. One reason is because both towns put a high value on having professional firefighters versus relying on volunteers as in Darien and Weston or a mix of professional and volunteer firefighters as in Ridgefield and New Canaan.

“Westport, Wilton and Darien chose to provide more support to their public libraries, contributing $4.7 million, $2.7 million and $3.5 million, respectively, versus only $400,000 in Weston, $2 million in New Canaan and $1.8 million in Ridgefield.

“We’ll be taking a deeper dive into expenditures to identify other spending differences, which we will share with the Board of Selectmen at a future meeting,” she said.