Annual Town Meeting: Voting begins on budget, projects

According to the registrars of voters, approximately 155 people cast ballots following the 2014 Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 6, at Middlebrook School.

That is compared to approximately 129 ballots cast last year.

Taxpayers voted for or against the town budget and five capital project resolutions presented during the 7:30 p.m. meeting in Middlebrook’s auditorium.

“If this were a concert, the reviewer tomorrow would say it was a small but very enthusiastic gathering,” moderator Curt Welling said about the turnout.

First Selectman Bill Brennan presented the Board of Selectmen’s $31,766,767 total budget, with $30,582,460 in operating and $1,184,307 in capital expenses.

Board of Education Chairman Bruce Likly presented the $78,401,125 education budget, including a full-time threat assessment coordinator position, which was voted for at the May 1 special meeting with the Wilton Security Task Force.

Budget highlights

On behalf of the Board of Finance, Chairman Warren Serenbetz presented the highlights of this year’s town budget:

  • The Board of Selectmen’s budget increase of 2.65%.
  • The Board of Education’s budget increase of 2.97%.
  • Debt service decrease of 0.51%.
  • Charter authority increase of 2.67%.

New mill rate

Mr. Serenbetz said the mill rate increase would actually be a bit lower than the 2.03% increase previously announced.

The required mill rate would be 26.5132, which is a 2.0146% increase over the prior year.

Mr. Serenbetz said this is a result of a 0.65% increase in the grand list, which went up to $4.3 billion, and the assumption that the 99.3% collection rate will remain the same year over year.

“When the budget was noticed in the paper, the grand list had not been finalized due to assessment appeals. For purposes of the notice, the Board of Finance estimated the impact of the appeals on the grand list,” explained Mr. Serenbetz. The appeals decisions were less than anticipated.

Non-tax revenues have gone up to $6.1 million, or 12.58%, said Mr. Serenbetz.

“We end up drawing down the previous year’s ending fund balance by $3.2 million to get a total to be funded from property tax of $112,236,125, up 2.68% over the prior year,” said Mr. Serenbetz.

Capital projects

Board of Selectmen members presented each of the five capital projects:

  • $595,000 to replace Fire Engine 3.
  • $3.464 million for road restoration.
  • $9.9 million to renovate Comstock Community Center.
  • $250,000 to renovate Ambler Farm’s White House.
  • $500,000 for school security and emergency management system upgrades.

Public comment

Around 10 members of the public commented on the presented budgets and capital projects.

“We have one of the best educational systems in this state. It is the main reason young families move to this community,” said Gail Moskow, of Carriage Road.

“We moved here 43 years ago with two young girls. There were very caring, thoughtful, forward-looking senior citizens who were more than willing to pay their taxes even though they had no children benefiting from them at that time.”

Ms. Moskow said now, as a senior citizen, she is “more than willing” to pay taxes “to continue the upstanding educational system here in this town.”

Milton Pohl, of Hurlbutt Street, said growing up in a depression and a war taught him that “you have to be able to pay for what you want or feel you need.”

“The thing that I’m concerned about is that if taxes go up and people cannot afford to live here, then the ones who cannot afford to live here are going to be the senior citizens and older people without children,” said Mr. Pohl.

“They will be replaced by people with children, and this will cause the school system to deteriorate or the cost to go up tremendously, and I think this is something we ought to look at.”

Mr. Pohl said the increase in facilities also bothers him.

“We are constantly … increasing the facilities that we provide to our citizens, including square footage,” he said. “When you expand square footage, you automatically expand people and other expenses, and I would suggest that we think about that very carefully.”

Deborah McFadden, of Westport Road, said although she supports the budget and “all of the quantitative issues,” she has some concerns.

“I want to remind people that this is pubic education. When you go to a private school, you pay fees. When you go to a public school, you go to a public school,” said Ms. McFadden. “As taxpayers, we pay for the education, and I’m very against participation fees.”

As for the Common Core, Ms. McFadden said, “the fact that a number of our students are having challenges with math, I was pleased to see there’s additional help coming to Middlebrook.”

However, she said, she is concerned “that there is no additional help being brought to the high school, where there are students struggling with the adaptation of the Common Core math curriculum.”

Ms. McFadden said she is pleased with Comstock.

“We spend most of the money in this town on education of our youth,” she said. “We need to make sure we spend money for our senior citizens.”

Voters who were unable to attend the Annual Town Meeting will have the chance to vote on the town budget and capital projects at the Clune Center on Saturday, May 10, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.