At their meeting last night (Tuesday, April 3), the members of the Board of Finance voted 4-2 to reduce the FY’19 school budget proposed by the Bd. of Education by $650,000. Tonight, they will formally approve a proposed Mil Rate to bring to the town at the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 1. But plugging in numbers they approved last night, the Mil Rate increase for FY’19 is shaping up to be 1.46%.

The BOF’s cut to the education budget represents a decrease in what the BOE proposed as its year-over-year budget increase, dropping it from 2.24% to 1.43%. The proposed budget would now increase from $80.572 million to $81.726 million.

The sharpest critic of the education budget on the BOF was Walter Kress, who originally proposed allowing only a 1.0% increase, which would have represented almost a $1 million cut to what the BOE had asked for. Ultimately, one of his primary goals was to bring in the town’s mil rate increase under the rate of increase of inflation. Currently, that rate of inflation is at 2.21%. Kress was also hoping to decelerate the mil rate of increase, which he said has now been done three years in a row. Last year’s mil rate increase was 1.58%.

Richard Creeth spent almost an hour trying to maintain as much of that $1 million as possible, saying that such a steep cut would be catastrophic for the district and hurt real estate values. He said the BOF already has a reputation being unfavorable to Wilton Schools. He ultimately was only able to get the BOF to consider a $650,000 cut.

Bd. of Education chair Christine Finkelstein was not happy after the BOF took action.

“We are disappointed by the action the Board of Finance took last night. We were very clear, that with a 2.24 percent spending increase, our budget was very lean. Now we’ve been cut back to a 1.43 percent increase, and that will have a demonstrable impact. Now it’s up to the voters of Wilton to show support for our schools by turning out for the town meeting and voting,” she told GMW.

The Board of Selectman‘s town budget proposal, with an increase of 0.88%, was untouched. The selectmen had brought their budget in below the BOF’s original guidance of 1.0%.

The only major debate the BoF had about the town budget centered on the challenge matching grant that the BOS gave the Wilton Library Association. The Library had asked the selectmen for a $50,000 budget increase, but instead of an outright increase, the BOS challenged the Library to increase their fundraising by an additional $25,000, which would then be matched dollar for dollar by the town. Last night BOF member John Kalamarides made a motion to reinstate that $50,000, but the BOF opted not to, complementing the BOF for thinking ‘creatively.’

Kress also said he would be the first to make a leadership donation to the Library to encourage other residents to do the same.

The town will have an opportunity to discuss and vote on the proposed mil rate increase at the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 1. Voting will begin immediately after the meeting is adjourned, and will continue on Saturday, May 5.

We’ll have more details on this developing story…