Finance board to discuss FY19 budget guidance next month
The Board of Finance has decided to look at several mill rate scenarios and discuss setting guidance for Wilton’s fiscal year 2019 (FY19) budget during its next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 17.
Board of Finance Chair Jeff Rutishauser noted during the board’s Sept. 19 meeting that it used an “upside-down mill rate model” last year to “target a mill rate increase and see what that meant for spending targets.”
Finance board member Richard Creeth said he would like to see that same kind of model again rather than “plucking numbers out of the air about spending,” which, he said, doesn’t provide “a good enough handle on the other factors.”
“If the budgets were exactly the same as this year,” said Creeth, “we’re still going to have a mill rate that’s 2,%, 3% higher — something like that.”
Fellow board member Walter Kress agreed and said he believes anything other than “building from the bottom up” is “not a valid exercise.”
Kress said he’d like to take a closer look at the revenue side of the budget this year.
“I think we’ve always dwelled on expense control — that’s still going to be the biggest control we focus on — but I don’t think we’ve looked a lot on the revenues side of the equation,” he said.
“Eversource spent $27.5 million to put poles in our town and they’re getting revenue by the way from cell towers on those poles. That goes into what we collect. What’s the impact there?”
As part of this year’s budgeting process, Kress said, he would like to get “a more thorough understanding of the top taxpayers — what they pay and how that works.”
“If I’m not mistaken, Eversource is the largest taxpayer in town,” he said.
“I want a more thorough understanding of what sits behind that, and where that might be going the next few years as well, as part of this process.”
In the past two years, Rutishauser said, the town received $1.5 million in education cost-sharing. In the past budget, he said, the town received zero, “so we’ve absorbed a half-million per year.”
“If we get some out of it,” said Rutishauser, “it goes unbudgeted and it goes to general fund.”
Rutishauser said the town has also had “some significant increase in debt service” with the issuing of the rest of its bonds.
“My recollection is the bonds we issued last spring cover the final expenses of the school,” he said.
“We don’t have any construction projects starting now, so we might see some reduction in that in the coming years.”
The police department might be the next construction project on the horizon, he said, “but that’s not even in the blueprint stage, so the debt service is not going to be climbing up like it has had in the past three years.”
“We’ve absorbed and endured some of those headwinds already, said Rutishauser, “so it isn’t quite as painful as what we might think because the non-Board of Education and non-Board of Selectmen things have gone up substantially.”
Rutishauser said pension is the “wildcard.”
“It’d be nice to know if that is or isn’t going to happen or what number,” he said, “but I guess we’ve got four, five, six months and we should know in the next 30-60 days what will happen with that — but that is a wildcard.”
As for mill-rate models to run for the board’s next meeting, Creeth said he would like to see “the starting point — which is no increase in the budgets — and what happens in the mill rates based on our assumptions.”
Creeth said he believes that would provide “everything you need to know.”
“The mill rate should be the result — not the driver,” said Kress, and Creeth agreed.
“A flat budget — which is going to be very difficult to do since the Board of Education budget was flat last year, but hopefully it’s doable — is still going to come up with an increase in mill rate,” said Creeth. “I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t.”
The Board of Finance’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 7:30 p.m. in Room B of town hall.