Town budget: Legal costs exceed expectations

A recent spike in litigation costs will likely reduce savings town officials expected to realize at the end of the fiscal year.

The fiscal year 2016 budget included $188,000 to cover legal costs. But $176,768 had already been expended by January, leading Chief Financial Officer Anne Kelly-Lenz to forecast $110,000 in legal overspending by the end of the fiscal year.

Kelly-Lenz first gave this mid-fiscal year forecast at the Jan. 19 meeting of the Board of Selectmen. That night, she predicted full fiscal year 2016 operating expenses to come in at $30,858,000, under budget by $331,000.

She attributed these savings to a “reduced need for consulting for labor negotiations, energy savings, delays in filling open positions, and reductions in employee benefit costs.”

The forecast savings, would, however, be offset by $110,000 in overspending, expected to result from “an increased volume of tax appeals, litigation, and FOI requests and appeals,” Kelly-Lenz said on Jan. 19. Anticipated operating savings for fiscal year 2016 were thus reduced to $221,000, not $331,000.

The anticipated legal costs, she told The Bulletin, are “based on open cases and their average costs for the next six months.” Kelly-Lenz estimated $122,000 in costs for the second half of fiscal year 2016.

This was before Sensible Wilton — a group that had been fighting the process that brought about the Miller-Driscoll School renovation — had withdrawn its lawsuit on Jan. 30. Because of that, Kelly-Lenz said, the town may not have to spend as much on litigation as she previously anticipated. The final overage will depend on expenses pertaining to other litigation.

Lawsuits the town of Wilton remains involved with include:

  • A claim for injury brought by an anonymous “Girl Doe” against the town and school district regarding sexual abuse at Miller-Driscoll School.

  • A claim for injury brought by Marissa and Christopher Lowthert and their children against the town and school district regarding the air quality at Miller-Driscoll School.

  • An appeal to overturn a decision made by the Wilton Planning and Zoning Commission brought by William and Eliot Patty against the town and the commission regarding lighting at Middlebrook Field.

There are several pending Freedom of Information Act complaints as well, and an administrative appeal.