Vote begins on budget that finance board recommended
After nearly two hours of wrangling and failed attempts to reduce the school budget, the Annual Town Meeting May 1 resulted in a packed house of nearly 500 voters going to vote on the budget package the Board of Finance recommended.
The machine votes began immediately after the meeting, which was held at the Wilton High School Clune Center, and will continue there on Saturday.
At the meeting, which began at 7:30 p.m., the Board of Finance recommended the appropriation of a budget for expenditures amounting to $127,563,331, which includes:
- Board of Education operating budget: $81,876,563.
- Board of Selectmen operating budget: $32,319,728.
- Board of Selectmen capital budget: $1,182,271.
- Debt service: $10,921,766.
- Charter authority: $1,263,003.
The finance board settled on a recommended fiscal year 2019 mill rate of 28.1875.
The vote on the capital bonding projects for fiscal year 2019:
- $3 million for repaving 15 miles of road, as part of the town’s five-year repaving plan.
- $700,000 to replace the artificial turf at Kristine Lilly Field with coconut husk infill turf with shock padding.
- $400,000 for repaving and installing additional lighting at the Board of Education bus barn, where school buses are stored, on School Road.
After long introductions and explanations of the budget, the debate began when resident Alex Ruskewich made a motion to reduce the school budget by $1.306 million, to bring it down to the current year’s level with no increase of 1.62% as proposed.
“I believe Wilton has been spending beyond its means. It’s now getting to a situation where it’s going to be really dramatic,” Ruskewich said. ”Wilton is expected to lose population and school enrollment by 2020.”
He said the mill rate increase is damaging the town. “The state of Connecticut is in terrible shape and is not going to help Wilton. When you reduce our population by 1,500 that I mentioned before, it will have an impact on housing.”
Moderator Scott Lawrence opened the floor to what he called “fill in the blanks,” that is, other motions for what to do with the school budget. The one rule was that nobody could increase it.
Cynthia Feher proposed a zero change, to accept the board of education budget as is.
“I think it’s a lean budget,” she said.
Virginia Benin proposed a $1 decrease, also showing support for the schools. “When you diminish the schools, you diminish the town,” she said.
Those were the only three motions. By a show of green cards given to eligible voters, there was overwhelming support for the school budget as presented, with no cuts.
Another of the school supporters was Gail Moscow. “We moved here in 1970 because of the excellent schools, and 45 years later, new families move here because of that. It’s an excellent education,” she said, urging support of the budget as is.
Michael Graupner, on the other hand, said “there is still a sizeable number of people who moved here 30 or 40 years ago.” He asked the officials on the stage to remember there are “people here on a fixed income who cannot really afford what you’re trying to do year in and year out.”
Resident Brian Smith had no problem supporting the school budget. He said he moved to town two years ago. “I’m happy to pay the taxes,” he said.
Wilton High School student Cameron Berg urged support of the school budget, too. “We need to produce the future well-being of this community, which is education,” he said.
There was no debate on the Board of Selectmen side of the budget.
Voting on the budget continues Saturday, May 5, from 8 to 6 in the lobby of the Clune Center on the Wilton High School campus, 395 Danbury Road.
This story replaces an earlier version.