The number of Wiltonians who vote on the town budget is on the decline, as well as the percentage of those who approve the budget, according to Board of Finance member Jeff Rutishauser\u2019s findings.During the finance board\u2019s Aug. 18 meeting \u2014 as a continuation of the board\u2019s July discussion on the budget process \u2014 Rutishauser presented a chart of voting trends dating to 1996 based on data from the Wilton registrars of voters.Rutishauser noted an \u201cabsolute decline\u201d in the number of voters over the years \u2014 a trend, he said, that \u201cshould concern us greatly.\u201dAccording to the chart, voter turnout went from 3,645 in 1996 \u2014 36.8% of 9,906 eligible voters \u2014 to 1,294 in 2015 \u2014 approximately 11.5% of 11,278 eligible voters.While 1996 had the highest voter turnout, 2013 had the lowest \u2014 806 of 11,647 (6.9%) eligible voters cast ballots that year.\u201cWe have a situation right now where a lot of people don\u2019t vote, they\u2019re latent in \u2018yes\u2019 [votes] because they assume it\u2019s going to pass so why bother, they\u2019re latent in \u2018no\u2019 [votes] out there, saying the threshold to get a reject is so high so it doesn\u2019t matter,\u201d said Rutishauser.\u201cA lot of people don\u2019t vote, and the small number of people who do vote have showed \u2014 in the last couple years, in increasing numbers \u2014 that they don\u2019t like what is being proposed by us on the board,\u201d said Rutishauser.Last year, more people voted against the budget than in favor of it, said Rutishauser, \u201cand yet, the three capital projects passed by a rather comfortable margin.\u201d\u201cIt was a disapproval of the operating budget \u2014 the big budget; not the capital projects that we recommended \u2014 that passed without a threshold on a straight yes-no vote,\u201d he said.Finance board member Richard Creeth said low voter turnout is not only a problem in Wilton, but one that all Connecticut municipalities are struggling with.\u201cNone of us know what\u2019s driving this. The one thing we know is that voter turnout is declining and it\u2019s continuing to decline,\u201d said Creeth, who also made a chart. He found that \u201cthe \u2018no\u2019 vote [in Wilton] isn\u2019t really increasing that much \u2014 it\u2019s the \u2018yes\u2019 vote that\u2019s decreasing.\u201d\u201cThis isn\u2019t just a Wilton problem \u2014 this is beyond our borders. I\u2019d like to understand what it is and I\u2019d like to do something about it, but I think the problem we face here and the reason the 15% threshold is in the charter is because you don\u2019t want 10% of the voters making decisions that could be extremely consequential.\u201d Budget approval Rutishauser said the declining number of people approving the budget is so dramatic that \u201cwe\u2019re headed to a crossover \u2014 a parity point \u2014 in the near future if we don\u2019t do things differently, at least in the eyes of voters who chose to vote.\u201d According to Rutishauser\u2019s chart, the highest approval percentage over the past 19 years was in 1999, when the budget passed with 77.7% approval. The highest rejection percentage was 58.1% in 1996. The second-highest rejection percentage was in 2015, with 53.2% of votes against the budget. Unless there is a voter turnout of at least 15% of eligible voters, and a majority of those vote \u201cno,\u201d the town budget passes by default. In the past 19 years, the budget has been passed by default nine times \u2014 in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. In 1996, \u201cvoters decisively rejected the 1996-1997 budget by a margin of 15%,\u201d as the late Don Klotz wrote in a guest commentary article, published in The Bulletin on May 29, 1996. As a result, the budget went back to the Board of Finance and a second Town Meeting and a vote took place the following month. In 2015, however, the rejection votes did not stop the budget from passing because fewer than 15% of eligible voters voted on the budget. \u201cThose who don\u2019t vote, we can have a discussion on whether their opinions matter because in a democracy, if you don\u2019t vote, you don\u2019t have a say, and this board doesn\u2019t approve anything,\u201d said Rutishauser. \u201cWe just recommend to the voters who show up to the Town Meeting, and they are the ones that determine who wins and who loses.\u201d Guide for the future Rutishauser questioned how the results of the most recent budget vote, in comparison to prior years, could help the finance board in future budget processes. \u201c[For] the first time in 20 years, we\u2019re looking back at a vote that voted against what we recommended at the town level, although that was one of the lowest increases we\u2019ve had in years,\u201d he said. \u201cHow does that guide us for what we\u2019re about to go into in the coming year? I think it does inform us that we do have to do something to respond to what the voters are telling us, and that\u2019s how democracies work.\u201d Board of Finance Chair Warren Serenbetz said budget guidelines will be set at the board\u2019s September meeting, during which there will be a \u201crobust discussion.\u201d The Board of Finance\u2019s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m., in Room B of town hall.