Finance board cuts $25,000 from Trackside funding

The Board of Finance accepted the Board of Education's proposed $80,569,905 budget and Board of Selectmen's proposed $1,174,406 capital budget during its March 29 mill rate meeting, and cut $25,000 from one line item in the Board of Selectmen's proposed operating budget — Trackside Teen Center.

During the meeting, finance board member Peter Balderston made a motion to cut $75,000 from the $150,000 proposed Trackside funding in order to "begin to wean the organization into more of a privately-supported organization."

"I think it is appropriate given that it was originally built with the understanding that it would be a completely privately-supported organization," said Balderston.

According to Board of Finance Chair Jeff Rutishauser, Trackside was built with the understanding that it would eventually become self-sufficient.

"Fifteen years ago, the promise was made that they would start up from scratch and we’d help them out, and they’d slowly taper down," said Rutishauser.

Finance board member Warren Serenbetz seconded Balderston's motion, stating that it's "a specific instruction to the Board of Selectmen" to cut from the Trackside line item in its operating budget.

“The issue with Trackside is it’s making a lot of its money not supporting the youth because they can’t make money doing that, and we’re continuing to support an organization that can’t make money doing what they’re supposed to do," said Serenbetz. "We’re talking about weaning them off funds."

Finance board member Richard Creeth, who "served as the Board of Selectmen’s representative on the Trackside committee for a couple of years," said he didn't recall there being an understanding that Trackside would be completely self-sufficient.

"My understanding was that the town would contribute toward the operating expenses," he said.

First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice told the finance board the town has an operating agreement with the teen center.

Vanderslice said she went back and looked at the 2002 plan put together when the teen center was proposed and "they did budget a much lower expense for labor.”

“At the time, I think they did contemplate only one employee," she said.

"Under the agreement, it is completely discretionary each year whether or not they receive any funding, and it does talk to the funding being only for the cost of labor.”

Vanderslice said she has talked to members of Trackside's board of directors, who are working on a five-year financial plan and organizational changes, including the implementation of student board.

“There’s a number of initiatives that they’re looking to put together now, including fund-raising initiatives," she said.

Vanderslice told the finance board cutting Trackside's funding in half this year would be like "cutting them off at the knees.”

“They’re not prepared for it. They’re going to have to quickly go out and raise that money," she said.

After speaking with newer members of the center's board of directors, said Vanderslice, she believes Trackside is beginning to head in “the right direction."

Because of that, Vanderslice said, "I wouldn’t cut them at the knees this year. I think $75,000 is too much. Let’s give these people an opportunity.”

Instead of $75,000, finance board member Walter Kress suggested cutting Trackside's funding by $25,000 this year and giving the teen center a little more time to become self-sustainable.

Vanderslice liked Kress' idea and said as someone who has raised more than a million dollars in the town, she believes it would be easier for Trackside to "raise money when their budget’s been cut.”

“I know they’re not going to be at all happy with me saying that, but when you have some clear-cut goal that you need to achieve to make sure that things continue to operate, I think people will step forward,” she said.

“If the community really wants this facility, I think they will step forward."

Balderston withdrew his motion and introduced a new motion to reduce the Trackside line item by $25,000, “understanding there is a longer term plan that would be more aggressive successive years.”

The motion passed by a five-to-one vote with finance board member John Kalamarides opposed, bringing the selectmen's total operating budget down to $32,034,470.

Other resolutions

During the meeting on March 29, the Board of Finance voted to:

  • Set the estimated rate of tax collection due on the $4.313 billion net taxable grand list at 99.4%.

  • Accept estimated revenues at $4,745,854.

  • Approve the debt service level at $11,767,516.

  • Approve ending fund balance of $12,680,452.

  • Provide $1.1 million in tax relief for elderly and disabled residents and $20,750 in tax relief for the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps (WVAC) and Georgetown Fire District at $20,750.

More resolutions will be voted on during tonight's second mill rate meeting at 7:30 in Room B of town hall, and the FY18 mill rate may be officially set.

There was a 1.89% mill rate increase last year, and a 1.196% increase before that.