Selectmen deliver budget request

The Wilton Board of Finance March 13 heard a budget request from the Board of Selectmen that comes in at an increase of 0.883% over the current fiscal year.

The Board of Selectmen asked for $33.5 million, which is $293,123 more than the current year’s $33.2 million, for fiscal 2019.

It was a sharp contrast from a preliminary budget request discussed Feb. 3, which was $33.8 million, up 2.025%, or $672,486 more than in the current year.

That is the municipal side of the budget. It does not reflect Board of Education expenses. It includes $1.2 million in operating capital expenses, but not bonded capital expenses, which will come later.

Jeffrey Rutishauser, chairman of the finance board, thanked First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice for her work on the budget, producing savings such as combining the Department of Public Works with the Department of Facilities and Energy.

“We’ve talked about it for years. That will help,” Rutishauser said.

Other savings come by taking overtime out of the Parks and Recreation budget, by realizing a savings in medical costs when many people moved to a higher deductible, and by a $22,000 reduction in the Trackside Teen Center budget, among other areas.

The finance board members questioned a small change in the library’s funding. The library will receive a grant of $2.7 million, which is equal to this year’s grant. In addition, it is eligible to receive additional grant monies of up to $25,000. For every unrestricted donation the library receives in excess of its budgeted unrestricted donations, the town will match that donation dollar for dollar up to $25,000, Vanderslice said.

It’s a start toward getting the library to get more money from local fund raising, Vanderslice said, as residents take advantage of charitable donation tax deductions that aren’t possible when supporting the library through tax dollars.

“We’re not naive enough to think that will happen overnight,” Vanderslice said.

The library funding question was important because the library is the one universal outstanding resource for all Wiltonians, according to the finance board members, and they do not want to see hours or personnel cut.

Another concern, which the finance board members had expressed in written questions prior to the meeting, was whether the town is overburdening its workforce, something that could create problems going forward, like the exit of the tax assessor last fall.

Vanderslice responded that historically there has been little opportunity for advancement, and reorganization has created those opportunities and also for compensation that better reflects the employees’ contributions to the town.

The finance board members also questioned why there is a large three-year increase of $167,059, up 39.5%, in social services.

Vanderslice responded that the community has never fully recovered since the recession, and the longtime impact has resulted in the need for additional personnel to address the increasing needs. The adult services coordinator’s hours were increased to a level to qualify for benefits, and there are expanded hours for the part-time adult services social worker and expanded hours for the youth services coordinator and part-time social worker. In addition, the director’s position was vacant for four months last year, and there have been changes in employee selections on medical coverage, plus an increase in programming at the senior center due to an increasingly aging population.

The budget request reflects $32.3 million in operating expenses and $1.2 million in operating capital.

The finance board will now begin examining the budget closely and making possible modifications.