Decision time: Annual Town Meeting is Tuesday
Last year, Wilton’s budget passed even though it was rejected because too few people showed up to vote at the Annual Town Meeting. This year’s meeting will be held in the lobby of the Clune Center at Wilton High School on Tuesday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m., with voting after the meeting.
For folks who can’t make it on Tuesday, an adjourned vote will be taken Saturday, May 7, from 9 to 6, also in the Clune Center lobby.
Absentee ballots will be available at the town clerk’s office in town hall, 238 Danbury Road, May 4-6. These must be completed and returned to the town clerk’s office by 4:30 p.m. May 6 to be counted.
That’s three ways to vote on two important matters: next fiscal year’s budget, and next fiscal year’s bonding authorizations.
The Wilton Board of Finance will be recommending a budget of $125,488,107 for fiscal year 2017. This breaks down into $32,201,880 for the town, and $80,572,640 for the school district.
The recommended mill rate has been set at 27.3371 mills. The mill rate is the property tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value, or 70% of market value. If a home is assessed at $700,000, the property taxes would be 700 multiplied by 27.3371, for a total of $19,135.97, compared to $18,781.14 for the current fiscal year. Two bonding authorizations will be put to votes for a total appropriation of $2.45 million in bonded capital. These are $1.8 million for the five-year road restoration program, now at the end of its fourth year, and $650,000 to replace the crumb rubber football field at Wilton High School with organic turf.
The recommended overall budget — $125,488,107 — represents a 1% increase over fiscal year 2016’s enacted $124,234,645.
The 27.3371 mills being proposed represents a 1.89% increase over the current 26.83 rate.
The town budget splits into $31,015,191 in operating expenses and $1,186,689 in operating capital, the latter mostly set aside for vehicle replacements and upgrades.
In total, the $32,201,880 that’s being proposed is $230,314 less than what the Board of Selectmen budgeted for fiscal year 2016, marking a 0.7% decrease fiscal year over year.
The Board of Selectmen had originally proposed an overall town budget of $32,414,880.
On April 7, however, in an attempt to close a $2.6-million shortfall — due to smaller-than-anticipated grand list growth, decreased surplus reserves, and an increase in debt service — the Board of Finance handed the Board of Selectmen a $213,000 cut, reducing Wilton’s recommended fiscal year 2017 town budget to $32,201,880.
According to First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice, the board has approved appropriating the reductions to three areas.
Selectmen decided to extend the life of a Public Works Department dump truck by an additional year, shaving $199,000 off their capital budget.
They decided also that by training finance employees through webinars instead of having them attend seminars in person, they could cut the finance department’s budget by $3,000.
Additionally, selectmen had budgeted $20,000 to replace a health department vehicle, but police have an old cruiser they can decommission and donate for health department purposes. That saves another $11,000, since police usually get $9,000 for a trade-in.
The larger school budget — $80,572,640 — reflects a 0.77% increase over the current school budget.
In order to close that $2.6-million gap mentioned above, the Board of Education was told on April 7 to also cut its budget, but by $400,000.
But unlike the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Education has not yet determined how to account for its mandated reduction.
“[Superintendent] Kevin [Smith] has a preliminary list of where he’s looking to make adjustments,” Board of Education Chair Bruce Likly told The Bulletin via email.
“The board has given him guidance to stay as far away from affecting existing programming as possible, but the list is still in development,” Likly said.
“For example,” he continued, “we are entering the time of year when people begin announcing their retirements, or if they’ve secured promotions with other districts.
“Moves such as these can have a significant impact on the options we have available to us and where the funds ultimately come from. To make an announcement before all of the dust settles with staffing might be to project a cut in an area that may not be necessary if something else changes,” he said.
“I suspect the final list might not come out for a while,” he said.
Education Cost Sharing grant
After Hartford’s majority legislature fell $540 million short of addressing Connecticut’s $930-million deficit estimate, Gov. Dannel Malloy revised on April 12 his office’s Feb. 3 midterm budget proposal by axing all funding through the Education Cost Sharing grant for a list of affluent towns that includes Wilton.
Wilton expected to be granted $1,461,523 in fiscal year 2017 through the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant, and budgeted for $1.2 million. Malloy’s plan would have the town receive none of that.
No one can cut the budget at this point except for voters at the Annual Town Meeting, and the current legislative session ends May 4, so it is likely the state’s budget will not be resolved before Wilton taxpayers must make a decision. State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) issued a press release Tuesday announcing that the legislature’s Republican minority has proposed a budget plan that would retain education funding. Whether that plan or any portion of it will be acted upon is yet to be determined.
All registered Wilton voters are eligible to vote at the Annual Town Meeting, regardless of whether they own property in town.
Also eligible is any United States citizen liable to the town of Wilton for taxes on real estate property or any motor vehicle assessed at at least $1,000 on the grand list of Oct. 1, 2015.
Total revenues for fiscal year 2017 — excluding property tax — have been estimated at $5,597,106.
The estimated ending fund balance for the fiscal year has been set at $14,048,811.
Detailed copies of the budget are available for inspection during normal business hours in the town clerk’s office, as well as in the Board of Education Central Office at 395 Danbury Road.
Details will also be presented at the Annual Town Meeting.
Per the town charter, the budget will pass automatically unless at least 15% of registered Wilton voters vote, and a majority vote to reject it. Bonding authorizations pass or fail on a straight up or down, and are voted on individually.
Last year, more people voted to reject the budget than to approve it, but only 11.5% of the body of eligible voters cast ballots, so it automatically passed.