Selectmen vote refund of excessive wetlands fee

An ordinance enacted in 2013 allowed Wilton’s Inland Wetlands Commission to assess fees on disturbed land project-wide — not limited to its jurisdiction of wetlands, watercourses and buffer zones — and now those affected by the “unreasonable” price hike will see refunds.

The ordinance was unanimously repealed by the Inland Wetlands Commission on Jan. 14. Commissioners voted that day to return to the old way of doing things — assessing disturbed-land fees on the regulated area only.

The question of whether to refund the difference to people hit with the excessive charge, however, was still up in the air.

That is, until the April 18 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, at which Town Counsel Pat Sullivan of Cohen and Wolf gave her legal opinion that refunds should be distributed.

“It makes reasonable sense to say that if someone were to complain about a fee that had been assessed, which is in excess of what we would now charge — which is a reasonable fee based on the disturbed area that the commission has jurisdiction over — it’s reasonable to make a decision that those fees that have been paid, which could be considered excessive if they were to be challenged and a court were to find that, that those could reasonably be refunded,” Sullivan said at the meeting.

“The other thing I would say,” Sullivan added, “is that if we had to defend any one of these, it would cost us the amount [we’d have to refund].”

First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice said that from 2013 to 2015 — when the unjustified fee structure was in place — the town collected $96,000 from 25 applicants.

“Based on the newly adopted fee, it would have been $58,000, so the difference is about $37,600,” Vanderslice said.

Second Selectman Michael Kaelin said, “I can’t defend this legally or equitably, so I would move that we refund them a difference in fees.”

He was seconded by Lori Bufano, and the selectmen voted all in favor.