Mill rate set to 27.768504

During its March 30 mill rate meeting, the Board of Finance settled on a 27.768504 mill rate for fiscal year 2018 (FY18), representing an approximate 1.58% increase over the current 27.3371 rate.

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

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 27.768504 for a total of $19,437.95, compared to $19,135.97 for the current fiscal year.

The finance board appropriated $1,174,406 for the Board of Selectmen's capital budget, $32,034,470 for the selectmen’s operating budget, and $80,572,640 for the Board of Education’s operating budget, which is actually slightly more than the education board’s $80,569,905 request.

Education budget discrepancy

Shortly after the March 30 mill rate meeting, The Bulletin brought the discrepancy to the attention of Board of Finance Chair Jeff Rutishauser, who looked into the $2,735 difference and issued a statement the morning of March 31.

In his statement, Rutishauser explained that "early on," Board of Education Chair Bruce Likly had told the finance board that "his goal was to bring in the BOE budget at the same number as last year — a flat budget with no increase.”

“When I put together the mill rate model we use in the process, I took last year’s approved [education] budget, of $80,572,905 and moved it to this year’s FY18 budget model,” Rutishauser said.

“Later, the superintendent’s budget was submitted and it requested $80,569,905 for FY18 — actually $2,735 less than last year.”

Rutishauser said he “didn’t pick up on the small difference” between the superintendent’s budget request and the Board of Education budget number already entered into the mill rate model, and “put together the [Board of Finance] slides for the public meeting using the $80,572,640 amount from the mill rate model.”

“Looking back at Bruce’s slides for the March 20 hearing, he put in the superintendent’s FY18 request, approved by [education board], of $80,569,905 in his presentation,” said Rutishauser, “so the two slightly different numbers were presented to the public that night.”

The finance board continued to use the slightly higher mill rate model amount of $80,572,640 for the education budget in its deliberations and later put that same amount into its authorizations on March 30.

“In essence,” said Rutishauser, “we inadvertently restored the $2,735 cut by the superintendent from last year’s Board of Education budget — bringing their budget to a truly flat amount from last year; not the very slight cut as requested by the superintendent and later approved by the Board of Education.”

The finance board’s authorizations have already been finalized, leaving the education board with a slightly higher amount than requested.

“Hopefully they can put the ‘windfall’ to good use,” said Rutishauser.

Selectmen budget cut

During its first mill rate meeting on March 29, the finance board cut $25,000 from the Trackside Teen Center line item in the selectmen's $32,059,470 operating budget — bringing the operating budget down to $32,034,470.

On March 29, 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 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.

Other resolutions

In addition to levying a tax of 27.768504 mills on the net taxable grand list for Oct. 1, 2016, and appropriating the budgets, the finance board also voted to:

  • Set the estimated tax rate of collections due on the Oct. 1, 2016 net taxable grand list of $4,313,626,900 at 99.4%.

  • Set estimated 2018 revenues, excluding current property taxes, at $4,745,854.

  • Appropriate $11,767,516 for debt service.

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

  • Appropriate $1,255,490 to the charter authority, including $313,873 under the jurisdiction of the Board of Selectmen and $941,617 under the jurisdiction of the Board of Finance.

  • Set the June 30, 2018 estimated general fund balance at $12,680,452, which is 10% of the FY18 total operating funds required.

  • Set the June 30, 2017 estimated general fund balance at $16,795,603, leaving $4,115,151 to be used to finance the FY18 budget.

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

At this year’s Annual Town Meeting, the Board of Finance will recommend a general fund total operating budget of $126,804,522.

The school budget reflects a 0% increase from the current budget, and the selectmen’s budget reflects an approximate 3% increase from the current budget.

The town budget and capital projects will go to voters at the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 2, at the Clune Center. The adjourned vote will take place Saturday, May 6, from 9 to 6, at the Clune Center, 395 Danbury Road.