Wilton's proposed town budget goes up 3.62%

With little fanfare, First Selectman Bill Brennan put the town’s operating and capital budget up for a vote at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, March 4. Soon after, a unanimous 5-0 vote ended the process.

The budget request totals $31,447,323, up 3.62% from fiscal year 2013.

“We started out at 6.35%,” Mr. Brennan said. “The reductions were made with the cooperation of the town departments. I think that’s a significant accomplishment.”

Within the potential budget are five bonded capital projects totaling $2,330,800 (which includes school and municipal projects). These items will be up for referendum votes by the community at the annual Town Meeting on May 7 (with an adjourned vote on May 11). Included in the capital projects is the replacement of boilers at Comstock and Gilbert & Bennett community centers.

“Those boilers must be replaced in fiscal year 2014,” Mr. Brennan told the board and a small gathering at town hall.

In a statement, the first selectman added, “The life of these boilers has been stretched by frequent repairs, but recent professional evaluations call for replacement as soon as possible to avoid a major failure.”

Second Selectman Hal Clark added, “We have, in our five-year plan, $900,000 to replace the oil tanks.”

Said Mr. Brennan, “Those numbers also are being challenged because we’ve had some cases where the numbers have been poorly estimated.”

He also said further work at Comstock is in discussion, pending a priority list of the community center’s needs.

“We need to get the funds to get the architects and engineering working on that so that we have a plan. We have to have a plan for this facility.”

Additionally, $400,000 is being put aside for boilers at Cider Mill School. At Middlebrook School, Mr. Brennan said, the removal of the boiler was difficult, according to Turner Construction Co.

“You get a crane and lower it in and remove it via vertical transportation,” he said with a laugh. “You take the old one out and put the new one in vertically. It’s a great term.”

Also in the fiscal year 2014 budget is an open space conservation easement request. The proposal for 35 acres will be submitted for referendum at a special town meeting in June. Mr. Brennan said the project has a component of a state open space grant and a Wilton Land Trust contribution. The town contribution proposed will be $2 million, down from $2.5 million. The first selectman felt that, given the circumstances surrounding the parcel, a special meeting was warranted to allow for proper public discussion.

Factoring in $1.36 million for the Board of Education with $2.97 million from the Board of Selectmen, the total for bonded capital projects came to $4.33 million. This total includes the $2 million for the open space project.

Considering the economy, town departments were required to develop cost-efficient budgets, a press release from the first selectman’s office said. Recent storms taxed the town’s resources. The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, while not specifically named in the statement released by the town, highlighted the need to fill a long-vacant Police Department opening. Previous operating budget constraints kept that position from being filled.

The town is currently negotiating the contracts of the four labor unions.  According to the release, “Employee compensations and benefits similar to past years represent 68% of the town’s operating expenses. However, town headcount is still below 2005 levels.

“Non-government organizations — library, Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County, Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps, etc. comprise 13% of the town’s annual budget, with the remaining 18% covering all other expenditures, substantially unchanged from previous years.”

The budget is due to the Board of Finance Friday, March 8.

“It’s essentially done, and we’re comfortable with it,” Mr. Brennan said.