Town budget season gets in gear
The calendar listing budget meetings for fiscal year 2017 was finalized and made public Jan. 6 on the town website, WiltonCT.org, and until the Annual Town Meeting in May, the boards of selectmen and education will be busy figuring their respective financial plans for general government and the school district.
These meetings, hearings, and workshops are open to the public. Superintendent Kevin Smith will present an $81-million school budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday, Jan. 28, from 7 to 8 p.m., in the cafeteria at Cider Mill School. There will be an opportunity for community conversation and input following the presentation. [A story in the Jan. 14 issue of The Bulletin reported a public hearing on Jan. 21. This was erroneously posted on the town website and will not take place.]
Budget meetings between the Board of Selectmen and the departments it oversees will be regularly held at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall Meeting Room B. Proposals from the police department, volunteer ambulance corps, and Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County are on the Jan. 25 agenda.
On Jan. 28, the fire department, Board of Finance, assessor, and tax collector will present their proposed budgets, and the Public Works and Land Use departments will present on the first of February.
Human Resources, the town clerk, the registrars of voters, Parks and Recreation, and the Economic Development Commission have meetings on Feb. 4. The last to go before the Board of Selectmen will be Wilton Library, information technology, and the administrator of benefits on Feb. 8.
After these meetings, the Board of Selectmen will have a work session on Thursday, Feb. 18, at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall Meeting Room B. The boards of finance and education have a shared workshop at the Wilton High School Library at 7:30 on Feb. 22.
The Board of Selectmen will further review the proposals at a budget work session on Feb. 25 at 7:30 in Room B.
In addition to proposing operating budgets, the boards of selectmen and education may propose capital budgets.
For this purpose, members of the boards of finance and selectmen are scheduled to go on a capital tour Feb. 20 at 9 a.m., and will host a shared capital meeting on April 7 at 7:30 in Town Hall Meeting Room B. The Board of Education has included no capital items in its proposed budget.
After the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education approve their upcoming budgets and fiveyear capital plans, they must submit them to the Board of Finance for review.
According to the 2016 budget season calendar, these are due from Board of Education on Feb. 5, and from selectmen on March 4.
After it has received town and school budgets, the Board of Finance holds public hearings 35 days prior to the Annual Town Meeting, for comments from residents on the requests and on the proposed tax rate.
A hearing for the Board of Education’s budget is scheduled for March 28, and one for the Board of Selectmen’s is for the next day, both at 7:30 in Middlebrook School.
In early April, the Board of Finance is scheduled to meet twice in Town Hall Meeting Room B at 7:30, once on the 5th and again on the 6th.
During these meetings, the board refines revenue estimates, considers the comments expressed at the public hearings, decides if the respective budget requests should be changed, determines an acceptable general fund balance, and determines the mill rate necessary to support the budget.
The Board of Finance may decrease, increase or leave unchanged both Board of Selectmen and Board of Education budgets.
But pursuant to the Connecticut General Statutes, it may only adjust the Board of Education’s total appropriation; it may not make changes to individual line items within the budget. Thus, the responsibility to allocate increases or decreases— if there should be any — to the individual lines falls to the education board.
The Board of Finance may, however, reduce or increase any line item in the Board of Selectmen’s budget proposal, though the Board of Selectmen may, with four votes, override that action so long as it modifies other line items so the bottom line matches the appropriation recommended by the Board of Finance.
The Annual Town Meeting, at which the Board of Finance presents and discusses its recommended budget, is on the first Tuesday of each May, May 3 in 2016, at 7:30 in the Middlebrook School auditorium.
The public is encouraged to attend the town meeting, as the meeting may, within limits defined in the charter, amend the budget that the Board of Finance recommends.
After the Annual Town Meeting, the budget — as recommended or amended — must receive a taxpayer vote. Voting begins immediately following the meeting and continues at an adjourned vote on the Saturday following the first Tuesday, in this year’s case on May 7, from 9 to 6, in the Clune Center at Wilton High School.
Residents may vote to approve the budget, reject it for being too high, or reject it for being too low. The recommended budget and tax rate pass unless they are rejected by a majority and voter turnout is at least 15% of eligible voters.
If the budget does get rejected, the Board of Finance consults the boards of selectmen and education, reconsiders the budget, and recommends it to a reconvened Annual Town Meeting, to be held no later than 25 days after the adjourned vote.