Town budget tough to cut

The Board of Selectmen told the Board of Finance during a joint session on the municipal budget March 6 that 75% of the requested $1.03-million increase, of 3.20%, over the current year’s $32.20 million is just to cover salaries of town employees like police and firefighters.

That doesn’t leave a lot of fat on the bone for the finance board to cut. First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice quipped that this is no corporate budget where employees take people to lunch and go on junket trips.

“This is a challenge,” said Jeff Rutishauser, chairman of the Board of Finance, referring to where to possibly find room to cut in this unusual budget year.

The budget year is unusual because of the financial troubles in Hartford that are bleeding down to the towns. Another part of the budget problem locally is that there is no grand list growth this year.

Selectmen, including Vanderslice, said if cuts must be made, they will avoid cutting into town workers and instead focus the cuts on nonprofit agencies in the town, which could include the teen center or the library.

“They have the ability to raise funds. I don’t have the ability to raise funds to cover town workers’ salaries,” Vanderslice said.

One victim of the budget year is the promotional film for the town being prepared by the Economic Development Commission. It would have cost $35,000 to have the film finalized by a professional, but that money was not in the budget. Some members of the finance board expressed concerns that without the professional presentation, the film would not be as effective.

The film is now being finalized at Wilton High School.

“The money spent on that film would multiply itself many times over,” said finance board member Walter Kress, who attended the meeting via telephone, referring to more families moving to town and buying homes.

Another potential victim of the budget is the library. Its funding may be cut back and it will have to raise the money from benefactors.

Elaine Tai-Lauria, the library’s executive director, said the next day in an email, “We knew going into the budget process that this was going to be a difficult year for Wilton, especially given what is happening at the state level. We have taken a realistic look at our budget and presented what we needed. Since we are committed to what is best for the town, should the BOS need our help, we will support it.”
Vanderslice has said there have already been two jobs cut in her office this season. She and other selectmen have expressed an interest in avoiding personnel cuts of all kinds.

For Wilton, Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposals would mean a more-than-$1-million reduction in educational aid plus a $4-million expense to cover the state teacher pension plan, Vanderslice has said. If both are adopted by the legislature, they could mean an approximately 5% increase in Wilton’s annual budget, Vanderslice said.