Numbers for the times
“Numbers for the times.” That’s how Board of Finance Chair Jeff Rutishauser described the budget and mill rate being proposed to Wilton taxpayers.
Normally at this point in the process, The Bulletin would encourage readers to vote either “yes” or “no” on the combined town and school budget. That is a moot point this year, of course, because there will be no voting by taxpayers due to the coronavirus pandemic. No 15-percent rule.
The budgets are now in the hands of the Board of Finance. For those who have not been following the budget meetings online or in print, there is — or will be very shortly — a summary of the proposed spending plans and the proposed mill rate on the town’s website, wiltonct.org.
After weeks of review and discussion by the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education, the school budget as proposed by the finance board is flat compared to the budget in place for this fiscal year. The town budget is being reduced by about 2 percent. The mill rate, as proposed, would go down nearly 4 percent.
As was explained in an article published last week — “Declining mill rate? It’s complicated” — there is more to figuring the mill rate than whether budgets go up or down. One of those factors was the money held in the Charter Authority, the reserve the Board of Finance holds for emergency spending. The amount being held this year is nearly $3 million, significantly higher than the one percent held under normal circumstances. That is to better position the town to address unanticipated expenses due to COVID-19.
“Our goal this year was to try to do what we could to alleviate the tax burden this year, recognizing next year is another year,” Rutishauser said at the last board meeting. “Hopefully, the economy is back to a situation next year where we can go back to more normal numbers. If not, we’ve got much more difficult discussions next year.”
We all will know better about next year when the budget process begins all over again in another seven months.
For those who would like to see the budgets even lower, consider this. If the town or school district does not have enough money to do its business and pay for needed services, where the costs are greater than the town’s reserves, there is no other option than to appropriate more money from taxpayers. It is far better to be confident you have enough money in your wallet to pay for the things you need.
This year, the finance board’s political affiliation was evenly split with three Republicans and three Democrats. Happily, the vote for the proposed budgets was unanimous. Unity is of the utmost importance right now.
While there will be no voting, there is still a role for residents and that is to voice your opinion. The Board of Finance said it has received far more input this year from residents than in any other. The proposed budgets are just that — proposed — nothing is written in stone as of yet. The board will take a final vote on the mill rate at a meeting on June 1. Public comment is encouraged until that time. Comments may be made by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.