Wilton first selectwoman proposes $34.6M budget as town works to hold down costs with 2% increase

Wilton First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice

Wilton First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice

File photo / Patricia Gay/Hearst Connecticut

WILTON — First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice is proposing a $34.6 million budget for Wilton for the upcoming fiscal year, representing a $730,000 increase over last year.

Vanderslice presented the $34,673,595 proposed budget for fiscal year 2023-24 at a Board of Selectmen meeting. The proposal represents a 2.15 percent increase over the FY 2022-23 budget and a 109 percent funding of the town retirement plan. Over the last eight years, Wilton has had an average annual increase of 0.86 percent. Vanderslice noted the town has succeeded in keeping the budget increases low while increasing services.

“We’ve not only held down the costs, but we’ve made significant improvements with the public’s interactions with the town.” she said at the Feb. 6 meeting.

Among the proposed increases are raises in wages, benefits and utilities, and the cost of potentially hiring a consultant to manage town grants.

The town will continue to focus on grants to reduce costs for taxpayers, Vanderslice said. It has been awarded $26 million in grants since 2019, saving Wilton $1.4 million in debt service in the upcoming fiscal year, according to Vanderslice’s office.

The town also plans to hire a new police officer to focus on traffic enforcement for $78,000. This would be the 45th officer for the Wilton Police Department, which has seen a higher than usual amount of turnover recently, Vanderslice said at the meeting. This follows a national trend and could potentially lead to more police department spending if overtime is needed to cover vacancies.

However, the town has also seen some savings from turnover, as the result of both vacancies and hiring new employees at lower wages. Many of these vacancies such as in the town clerk’s office are expected to be filled in the coming year, though the turnover is on the town’s radar.

“A lot of these employees are coming in from long distances,” Vanderslice said at the meeting.  “They’re finding positions right next door and they’re paying better. … That's something we need to be mindful of.”

Some areas of the budget may be subject to change, she said, including the cost of health premiums. The rates are not set yet, so the town has tentatively budgeted for a 5.5 percent increase. However, the plan could be announced at a lower option.

The Georgetown Fire District will also set its own mill rate separate of the town in March, which could lead to savings.

“These things can have a big impact,” Vanderslice said.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education, defended its $91.8 million proposed budget to the Board of Finance at a Feb. 9 meeting. Parents came out to defend the 5.99 percent proposed increase in spending in a short public comment session at the beginning of the meeting.

“We moved to Wilton for the schools and I support the budget, not just for our son, Mason, but for all of the town’s children and all the town’s children in the future,” said Eliza Alleva of Cherry Lane. “I do think it’s a reasonable amount of money. … I like to dream big. If you want to be No. 1 … you have to keep doing more and more requires more money.”

Another parent, Sara Sclafani of Wilton Hunt Road, advocated for going as far as increasing the mill rate to support the schools, adding that her fellow parents have pushed for more for the town's schools.

“A budget that maintains the status quo is not good enough,” she said. “Please do not assume to know what the taxpayers of Wilton are willing to shoulder. It would be a mistake to assume residents’ positions, values, and priorities are the same.”

Superintendent Kevin Smith then spoke with the Board of Finance, answering questions about the budget, the majority of which is driven by staff salaries. Smith pointed to the need to support an increasing number of students with disabilities who have Individualized Educational Plans as well as students who are in serious psychiatric distress.

“It’s our obligation to respond to those students to ensure they have the supports necessary so they can learn and grow,” he said.

The Board of Education will vote on its budget next week, while the Board of Selectman will have a budget meeting on Feb. 15.