Wilton among worried towns

Wilton was among the towns early in the week of Aug. 7 that received a letter from the office of Secretary Ben Barnes, of the Office of Policy and Management, seeking a great deal of financial information.

Barnes was asked in a letter from Governor Dan Malloy to gather information and analysis regarding, “municipal aid, local tax levels, expenditure trends, fund balances, and any other criteria that could better inform our decisions.”

The wording of Malloy’s letter to Barnes deals primarily with municipal aid, saying that “how we fund our single largest expenditure must be on the table.”

“In recent years, I have made it a priority to protect aid to municipalities. In contrast, we have made drastic changes to how we fund other areas of state government — both in total funding and in our rationale for how limited dollars are allocated. We’ve reduced state services; we’ve cut funding to private providers; we’ve asked state employees to come to the table with concessions; and we’ve raised revenues. Throughout all of this, we’ve held town aid harmless. In fact, it could be said that we have sacrificed state services and raised revenues in order to shield town government from facing difficult choices required of state leaders and implementing reforms,” Malloy’s letter reads.

The purpose of the information gathering is not explicitly stated, but later the letter does make it clear that Malloy is looking closely at aid to cities and towns and the way it is distributed.

Malloy goes on, “If we fail to recalibrate aid based on shifting local demographics, economies, and need, we risk perpetuating an inequitable distribution of burden among our communities. We risk not investing in the communities that should be our assets in attracting economic development, young professionals, and families.”

Simply, it appears Malloy has asked Barnes to gather information on the financial standing of towns across the state to assess how much aid to send, or not send. The information requested is meant to include historical data and current conditions, and is meant to be made public as well.

First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice said Wilton officials are concerned the request by the Governor increases the threat to Wilton of further municipal aid cuts and the proposed pension cost shifting.  As these two items could total over $5 million, they are a potential game changer in terms of what residents consider necessary. Teacher pension costs are expected to grow significantly over the next dozen or so years, so the impact will be ongoing and increase, she said.

To prepare for any potential changes Vanderslice said the Board of Selectmen have taken the following steps: “We have put on hold filling  the three vacancies within the police department,”.

“Where possible, budgeted spending is being postponed,” and ”I am working with the Police and Fire Commissions and the department heads to provide the BOS with a “plan B” budget.”

She said Wilton will provide  Secretary Barnes with the financial information requested along with the impact on police hiring and spending.

“I encourage all residents to make their thoughts known to their elected representatives,” Vanderslice said.

--Ben Arestia contributed to this report.