Debt service offsets tight budget
Two days before its budget workshop with the Board of Education, the Board of Finance briefly discussed the $81-million school budget proposed for fiscal year 2017.
Board of Finance Chair Jeff Rutishauser said the education board’s proposed 1.27% increase is its “lowest number in a long time,” but it is offset by “a jump in debt service” from bonding, “largely for education projects.”
“As well as they did to keep their budget tight, this is still a year that the debt service … is taking us off — much higher than last year, so there are some tough choices that have to be made in the next couple of months,” said Rutishauser.
“If you look at the special education report, they have some identified savings there, and I think this is not new news to the Board of Education that this year is going to be very tight — tighter than we’ve had in past years.”
Rutishauser said the finance board’s preliminary mill rate model gives a sense of “what kind of hole we have to fill.”
Since debt service can’t be cut and nothing can be done about the charter authority, Rutishauser said, it comes down to Board of Selectmen and Board of Education budget cuts and tax increases.
“I think everyone’s going to have to kind of tighten the belt and see if there’s a way to close this gap so it doesn’t all end up in a big tax increase at the end of the day,” he said.
Rutishauser said the finance board is focusing heavily on what the fund balance amount will be on June 30, because, he said, “we just don’t know how much savings from this year’s Board of Education [and] Board of Selectmen will be available for next year.”
“If there’s a million dollars there we don’t expect, then that’s a million less in budget cuts we have to come up with or tax increases,” said Rutishauser.
Board of Finance member Richard Creeth said the charts previously prepared and distributed by fellow board members Walter Kress and Peter Balderston “clearly show … that we’re just beginning a decline [in enrollment] that will be significant.”
Because of this, Creeth said, he believes it’s “really important we work out how to be cost-effective so that our costs reduce some based on the declining enrollment.”
Balderston added that getting ahead of the enrollment decline is most important.
“I think our biggest challenge is not being reactive but being proactive in terms of not just this year, but thinking ahead next year — setting a tone for next year,” he said.
The Board of Finance and Board of Education budget workshop will take place Thursday, Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m. in the Wilton High School Professional Library and include a question-and-answer portion, as well as general discussion.