Late yesterday, first selectman Lynne Vanderslice received an email from Hartford that may be the biggest harbinger yet of bad budget news headed Wilton’s way. The email was a request from Ben Barnes, the secretary of Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM) asking for financial information from the town. The email also contained a letter from Governor Dannel Malloy explaining that he was asking for the information as part of the embattled state budget process now underway in Hartford.
The message compounds worries that Vanderslice has already expressed about Wilton getting hit hard as a result of the financial problems in Hartford. With Malloy looking to potentially ask towns to share in unfunded costs associated with the state teacher pension fund, Wilton might be on the line for an additional $4 million bill from the state. Add that to the likelihood of not receiving any state funding.
“Unfortunately I think this only increases the threat of some level of pension cost sharing, and it increases the threat to the $1.2 million we have budgeted for municipal aid,” Vanderslice said in a late night email to GMW.
Perhaps most ominous for Wilton, Malloy writes that even though protecting municipal aid was a priority of his in recent years–even when it meant cutting back on state services and raising revenues elsewhere–making cuts to municipal aid is a concession that might have to be considered.
“Municipal aid accounts for our single largest state expenditure–more than $5 billion of our state budget… As our state struggles to finalize a biennial budget, how we fund our single largest expenditure must be on the table for discussion,” Malloy writes.
He asks Secretary Barnes to collect information on historic financial trends as well as current fiscal conditions from municipal aid, local tax levels, expenditure trends, fund balances and other criteria “…that could better inform our decisions.”
In the email sent to Vanderslice, Barnes requests information on Wilton’s 2017 and estimated-2018 unassigned fund balance and total fund balance. Additionally, Barnes asks about what impact the state budget crisis is having on Wilton:
“Please provide any supplemental information about the potential impact of a continuing state budget impasse on your community’s finances, such as contingency plans to utilize fund balance, issue supplemental taxes or reduce spending.”
During last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Vanderslice said she had had a conversation with Wilton’s state representative Gail Lavielle that indicated the threat of state officials shifting the pension costs was intensifying. Vanderslice said she reached out to Lavielle after reading the legislator’s op-ed (also published today), noting that she thought Lavielle’s tone had changed, sounding less optimistic.
That, Lavielle told Vanderslice, was perceptive on the first selectman’s part, given that she does not see any signs of the state budget being adopted before September.
Vanderslice told the BOS that each town department has started reviewing its FY’18 budget, to begin laying the groundwork for where they’d make cuts if necessary. “No one has been given dollar targets, I’ve just instructed them to look at your budget, think out of the box, about how can you do things differently,” she says.
Vanderslice has also started accounting for any savings that have already accrued thanks to wage savings with some open positions and costs that were lower than originally budgeted (including a less expensive insurance renewal cost and lower-than-anticipated OPEB contribution amount).
She also said that she’s exploring the idea of surveying residents about what their budget priority areas are using Survey Monkey. She is developing a list of questions and will bring the full concept to the BOS at their next meeting.