Wilton town budget increase could vary from 0.47% to 2.26%

Wilton will be receiving nearly $300,000 more in grants from the state budget, according to statistics provided by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

Wilton will be receiving nearly $300,000 more in grants from the state budget, according to statistics provided by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

Jeannette Ross / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — The cost of employee health care could be a determining factor for Wilton’s FY2021 town budget.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice presented three scenarios for the town budget at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Feb. 1.

The lowest increase would be 0.47 percent over the current budget.

Other possibilities are 1.37-percent or 2.2- percent increases. Those proposed increases could also change depending on a number of factors.

For a 0.47-percent increase, the total budget would be $33,659,637, broken down as:

 Operating budget: $32,791,225, a $249,123 increase.

 Operating capital: $868,412, a $91,485 decrease.

The 0.47-percent increase scenario is based on cost reductions and cost avoidance of $600,000 provided the town moves from its self-insured medical plan with Anthem to the State Partnership Plan for employee health care.

The state rates have not yet been announced for July 1, when the new budget goes into effect, so the $600,000 reduction estimate could change.

“We’re hoping rates from the state will come out soon. We will need to discuss this with our bargaining units, they have the right to weigh in on this,” Vanderslice said.

The 1.37-percent increase would total $33,959,637, and also relies on $600,000 in cost savings from moving to the State Partnership Plan. Under that scenario, $300,000 would be added for improvements for the municipal buildings.

“Rather than submitting a budget with a half-percent increase, consider taking some of that savings and invest it into our municipal buildings,” Vanderslice said in support of the 1.37-percent increase.

Building issues that could be addressed with the additional $300,000, are overcrowding at the annex and town hall; window replacements and installation of insulation in sections of town hall; and improving the poor condition of the DPW sleeping quarters.

If the town does not change to the State Partnership Plan, and with no additional funding for building improvements, the budget request would be $34,259,637, a 2.26-percent increase, Vanderslice said.

Budget drivers

The FY2021 budget request includes savings realized from repurposing police and DPW vehicles to fill the vehicle needs of land use and town hall departments and energy savings through renewables.

There are also a number of other budget drivers:

Increased employee wages: Contracted scheduled increases for police for FY2021 and 2-percent increase for FY2022 and FY2023.

Two-percent increases are also estimated in non-contracted increases for fire, highway, AFSCME and non-union employees in FY2021, FY2022 and FY2023.

Medical benefit costs: Budgeted within individual departments, reflecting FY2020 self-insured rates and changes in employee selections.

Transfer station subsidy: The budget reflects an estimated increase in the transfer station subsidy.

A study is being funded by the WestCOG regional planning agency of Wilton and Weston’s transfer stations to identify mutual cost reductions.

Department requests

Town departments explained their budget requests.

Social services requested a $5,526 increase for increased hours for a part-time youth services counselor due to increased school referrals.

The Finance Department, tax collector and assessor’s office are requesting a 1.2-percent increase, the majority being wage increases.

The Building Department, Health Department and Planning and Zoning budgets are pretty flat, according to Michael Wrinn, the town’s new planning director.

Initiatives for land use include increased use of technology to improve customer service and efficiencies and continuing to support public/private partnership initiatives to improve town-owned open spaces and the Norwalk River.

Michel Conklin, director of environmental affairs, said his budget proposal includes a $10,000 reduction in anticipation of one less lawsuit. However, due to the start of the Schenck’s Island renovation project, he would like to hire an additional seasonal employee for $10,800 to maintain invasive species areas on the island. He would also like to increase the GIS budget in order to hire a firm to scan documents into the GIS mapping system.

Chris Burney, director of facilities and energy management, presented the $4,965,539 proposed Public Works budget, which is $56,773 more from the current year, a 1.16-percent increase. He discussed the department’s increased use of technology to effectively and efficiently manage work and assets.

Parks and Recreation is requesting a $1,763,890 budget, $10,079 more than the current budget. The department is looking into public/private partnerships to fund new infrastructure and upgrades.

The police department’s budget request is $8,396,359, $64,208 less than the current year. Initiatives for the department are to continue to maintain Wilton’s reputation as a safe community in which to live and work; and provide proper training to ensure the safety and health of all officers.

The fire department’s budget is $5,085,154, a $40,790 proposed increase. Initiatives for the department are management of overtime, leadership training, and ensuring the safety of both residents and department members.

Human Resources Director Sarah Taffel presented the budgets for the registrars of voters, town clerk’s office and human resources and administration.

Regarding the registrars, she said they do more than basic clerical work and must also be knowledgeable about laws and compliance. Also, this year, with the presidential election in November, there will be more costs than usual. A $35,863 increase is requested primarily for printing ballots, additional election training, poll work, and additional part-time election help.

For human resources, Taffel said there will be collective bargaining negotiations and the department will continue to use town counsel rather than outside counsel, to hold down expenses.

Vanderslice discussed the budgets for the Board of Selectmen, town counsel and economic development.

The selectmen’s budget request is $20,236 more than the current year. It includes increased hours for Sarah Gioffre, the town’s coordinator of community affairs, Vanderslice said,

Town counsel is budgeted for $230,000, $800 less than the current year.

An initiative for the first selectwoman is to have weekly meetings with town counsel and staff in order to be ahead of potential issues.

There is a proposed increase in economic development, from $20,000 to $35,000 to assist the Wilton Center Beautification Commission with watering flowers.

An initiative in economic development is to pursue a partnership with AdvanceCT to retain and recruit businesses.

To review the complete budget presentation, click the selectmen’s tab at wiltonct.org.