If there’s one thing Lynne Vanderslice, an accountant by training, learned early on in her first year of being first selectman of Wilton, it is that you must plan for the unpredictable.
“You never know what is going to walk in through that door in the morning, so I never plan my day for the entire day on my calendar,” Vanderslice said in her office, in an interview to mark her first year at the helm. “I leave time to take care of the things that come up every day.”
The former corporate controller and real estate investor said she really enjoys her new job, which is a four-year term, and has learned there are always new people to meet.
“I lived in town 29 years and raised my son here, and thought I knew everybody,” Vanderslice said, but there are always new names and faces to put together.
“You always meet more Wilton people,” she said. “It’s my life. I hope I’m doing a good job.”
Vanderslice is a former vice chairman of the Board of Finance, from 2008 to 2015, when she ran for the top job. She listed her top accomplishments in her first year as financial.
“If I summarize it, it’s containing operating costs, increasing revenue through grand list growth, minimizing borrowing, increasing engagement with the public, increasing transparency, and next I’ll work on the affordable housing moratorium that we are coming out of after three years and work with this budget on senior relief.”
By senior relief, she refers to the program of tax credits and tax deferrals that are intended for senior homeowners. “It’s underutilized right now. We haven’t been spending it all because it is not as popular as we thought it would be and people are not deferring their taxes.”
Vanderslice loves the problem- solving aspect of the job. Whether it’s helping a citizen with a drainage problem, or finding ways to keep the mill rate low, it is what she likes to do.
“I feel I’m pretty good at it, and the other thing is, you can’t problem solve unless you work with good people. Problem solving is always a joint effort, and I like working collaboratively with people,” she said. Vanderslice said the town is fortunate to have a strong crew of town workers, from those who occupy the offices at town hall to the workers in Public Works Department who clear the snow from the road.
“Wilton has dedicated workers,” she said.
She looks forward to initiatives in zoning regulations to allow age-restricted housing that will result in development “That’s something I was very supportive of and encouraged,” she said. “I showed my support for it. Planning Director Bob Nerney and I met with a developer, and we’re actively meeting with those people to encourage investment in town.”
As far as minimizing borrowing, it’s keeping a tight watch on different projects and looking at ways to fill the needs in a cost-efficient way. The work on River Road, for example, has been done with town labor and donated money. “The town did some labor, and that was all supplemented with donations,” Vanderslice said.
The work on River Road consisted of clearing away invasive plants which endangered the health of the Norwalk River, creating windows within the vegetation along the river to open up the view from River Road, and establishing a small park with chess tables.
DPW and Park and Recreation ground crews provided the labor for the removal of the invasives and for replanting and seeding, Vanderslice said, and the Kiwanis Club and two anonymous donors provided the funds for the new plantings, reimbursement of related town labor costs and the three new chess tables and five new benches. “Going forward it’s the same thing, with a group now fund-raising for athletics, for building enhancement,” she said.
Another area being improved is economic development, by revitalizing the Economic Development Commission and moving forward on strategic items like a promotional video. “That certainly is happening,” she said.
It does not stand alone.
“The other item I identified and wanted to work on was increasing the resident engagement with town government, whether it wasincreasing the turnout for votes, or getting new people involved in town government, and that happened. We increased the turnout at town meetings, and opened a path for unaffiliated voters to petition and be considered for boards and commissions. We’ve seen an increase in the unaffiliated voters stepping forward.”
She also credits Lunches with Lynne — when people may meet with her informally — in helping to get issues on the table, and improvement in the town website — to make it more user friendly — for people to more easily get information they need.
“The other thing I wanted to focus on was a broader range of housing in town. We have a moratorium right now on affordable housing so another thing is to plan for that when we come off moratorium,” she said.
She stopped for a moment during the interview, and considered how many hours a week it takes to be first selectman. She said it is easily a 60-hour week for her, at times more.
It does not adversely affect her family life, though, because she has a grown son away at law school and her husband, Paul, is an executive who puts in long hours as well.
“I really have liked it every day,” she said of the job.
The bureaucracy took some getting used to. A simple grant request can be 40 pages. “Nothing is streamlined,” she said.
She said she loves Wilton, and of her goals for the town she said, “I want to make it better for future generations.”