Wilton voters will get a say on town and school budgets
WILTON — Although Gov. Ned Lamont has waived the town meeting requirement for approval of town and education budgets, Wilton voters will still get a chance to have their say.
“We won’t be having the Annual Town Meeting (ATM), but we will still do a public hearing and get information out to the public,” First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said Tuesday.
The governor’s waiver was done in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and allow municipalities the ability to pass their budgets. He also allowed for a 30-day postponement of town budget meetings.
Wilton’s ATM was originally scheduled for May 9. The town now has until the first week of June to finalize its budgets and set the mill rate. This will still allow tax bills to get out by July 1, Vanderslice said.
“The 30-day postponement will allow us to learn more about what state and federal assistance is being provided and impacts on residents and businesses,” Vanderslice said.
Town officials are working on finding a way to organize a public hearing that doesn’t violate social distancing and encourages public participation. “More people are on the town’s e-alerts. That is a great mechanism to give people links to the budgets. We can provide them with the same information and presentatations that are usually done at the budget public hearing,” Vanderslice said.
The town is also looking into the possibility of holding a public hearing via video. “Public comment can be made through email and regular mail. This will likely result in more public comment on the budget. Before, you had to drive down to Middlebrook School for the public hearing. You won’t have to do that anymore. When the finance board does their deliberations, it will hear more from the public than before,” she said.
The town’s goal, she said, is to present the budget in a transparent way in order to allow people to have a voice.
She noted that in the last few years, the ATM did not meet its 15-percent attendance threshold. “So, the budget that was set by the finance board automatically passed. It’s not unprecedented,” she said.
Although the selectmen and school board have already approved and submitted their budgets, Vanderslice said it would be premature to set the budget right now.
No guidance has been given yet on the bonding referendums, for items such as road paving and the high school track project. “These are things people want. So we’re waiting to see if there is any executive order associated with bonding referendums. If not, we will have a special town meeting to address those needs,” she said.
Vanderslice said she plans to speak next week with school board chair Debbie Low and finance board chair Jeff Rutishauser to discuss the budget public hearing.
Gov. Ned Lamont waived the requirement that town and school budgets be approved by voters at a town meeting in an executive order issued on March 21.
He wrote in the order, “The Board of Selectmen shall authorize the budget-making authority within said municipality to adopt a budget for the July 1, 2020 - June 30, 2021 fiscal year and to set a mill rate....”
He granted the Board of Education the same authority.
“Just as my administration is working tirelessly to protect the health and safety of Connecticut residents, so too are our local mayors and first selectmen,” Lamont said. “During this unprecedented public health pandemic, it’s vital that we provide our local leaders with procedural relief.”