Wilton boards address budget concerns

Proposed legislation in the state capital has left concern in some municipalities, but Wilton’s elected officials look to be proactive and prepared.
The Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Board of Education held a joint meeting Monday night to address these concerns. First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice started by giving an overview of the grand list.
“I think it’s important for everybody to know that almost half of the voters are looking at good size tax increases,” Vanderslice said. “Not the decreases that others are going to see because their home values went down.”
Board of Finance Chairman Jeffrey Rutishauser said the proposed budget includes a 1% contingency of $1.269 million. This could help alleviate some problems if necessary.
The finance board may authorize a supplemental appropriation of up to 2% for the 2019-20 budget. The selectmen would be required to call a special town meeting to approve the appropriation.
Rutishauser said residents should understand if they don’t approve the 2%, it would be added to the taxes they pay anyway.
“I think it’s better to take two percent off the balance sheet,” he said. “The townspeople could support that because it doesn’t raise taxes.”
Finance board member Peter Balderston said any reserve funds in the town’s budget should also be ready for use.
“I think it would be remiss of us to ask the town to pony up more taxes,” he said. “We need to be stringent at how we look at everything available to us.”
Balderston said there appears to be available fund balances in the Board of Education’s budget.
“There are also other special revenue funds within the Board of Education,” he said. “Again, I don’t understand their purposes, but we’re having to dig deep here.”
The Board of Education unanimously approved the $82,983,607 budget proposed by Superintendent Kevin Smith. The budget reflects a $1,107,044 or 1.35% increase from the district’s current budget. This also fell below the 1.6% budget guidance recommended by the Board of Finance.
School board Chairman Christine Finkelstein said this is the fifth lean budget in a row for her board. “We’re operating very lean right now,” she said.
Wilton’s schools are the heart of the town, Finkelstein said. Cutting thousands or anywhere upwards of $1 million could affect important programs, she added.
“Here in Wilton, the schools will always be the crown jewel of the community,” Finkelstein said. “We need to be very careful not to mess with the school system.”
All three boards agreed moving forward that continued transparency and positive communication is important.
Selectwoman Deborah McFadden said a positive message needs to be communicated about how elected officials are addressing concerns.
“At the same time we’re facing a challenge from Hartford we still want to elevate the conversation about Wilton,” McFadden said. “Wilton is a great place to live.”