UPDATE:  Wednesday, April 6:  

At least one member of the Board of Finance is saying that cuts to the Board of Selectmen’s budget are not a sure thing. In fact, he’s saying that there was no official request from his board to the selectmen. Despite Monday’s BoS discussion being labeled as “Board of Finance Request — RE:  Possible Budget Cuts” on the BoS meeting’s agenda, BoF member Richard Creeth says it wasn’t something the BoF officially ask for.

Creeth emailed GMW.com to say there had not been any formal request made by the BoF at all.  “I think this is more of an informal discussion between Jeff [Rutishauser, BoF chair] and Lynne [Vanderslice, first selectman].  The BoF has has [sic] no such discussions and has certainly not decided on any action in this regard.”

Whether the interest in cutting the budget is unanimous among members of the BoF or not is unclear. But one thing Creeth did reiterate when we asked for clarification is that cuts are not something the Board as a whole has officially asked for.

“If you look at the BoF minutes you will find no motion suggesting a $300k cut to the BoS budget. In fact other than general discussions about it being a tight budget year, you will find no reference to discussion of any specific BoS budget cuts. I guess I am making the distinction that while it is entirely appropriate for Jeff to hypothesize this with Lynne, it is inaccurate to describe these as BoF cuts, since the BoF has not requested them.”

Original story

At last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, the selectmen debated initial reports that the Board of Finance wants them to cut an additional $300,000 from their proposed FY ’17 budget.

First selectman Lynne Vanderslice said she’d heard from Jeffrey Rutishauser, the chair of the Board of Finance, asking what the selectmen would do if asked for cuts ranging between 1-3 percent.

Vanderslice told the members of her board that she told Rutishauser she wouldn’t even respond to the request for ideas that would amount to a 2-3 percent cut. “I’m not going to present something that would be a $1 million cut. I don’t have anything, and I’d be getting into things that wouldn’t make any sense.”

Rutishauser came back asking for her to put together approximately $300,000 in cuts, or close to that 1-percent reduction of the proposed BoS planned budget.

Vanderslice said she reached out to each town department. One idea came from Police Chief Robert Crosby, who said that rather than trade in an old police vehicle for approximately $9,000, the town could use one of the cars the department would have traded in for the health department, which needs a vehicle. “Instead of spending $20,000 on a used vehicle, we can use that and that saves us $11,000.”

Additionally, the finance department said that rather than send key personnel to travel to a conference, they would participate in webinars instead, resulting in a $3,000 savings.

Vanderslice said she asked each department to reassess their proposed capital expenditures, to see what could be put off for up to an additional 18 months. “One of the goals is to try to keep capital even, so that we aren’t having to deal with adjusting operating expenses.” Tom Thurkettle, who heads the Dept. of Public Works, volunteered to move a dump truck purchase from FY ’17 to FY ’18, as well as push any other scheduled purchases one year consecutively out. Vanderslice adjusted other departments, and made changes as well, five years out.

“That’s all very realistic, we can do that, [and] that’s a $213,000 reduction,” she added.

Will Non-Profits Have to Cut Too?

Vanderslice questioned whether the BoS would need to go to the town non-profits that have requested budget increases to ask for flat budgets or even possible reductions year to year.

“[The Library] said they kind of expected we’d come back to them and ask for a reduction. They said they’d be comfortable talking about it,” Vanderslice told her fellow selectmen, adding that she didn’t foresee asking them to cut beyond what they received last year. “They said they realize the situation the town is in and ‘we’ll do our part.’” Vanderslice also acknowledged that the Library has solid fundraising abilities to tap into.

Regarding Trackside Teen Center, Vanderslice said they received a $10,000 increase in FY ’16, and “I don’t know if we want to make that $10,000 permanent. We can argue whether or not we intended to still be paying that.”

She said that Ambler Farm is only getting $3,300 from the town. “They have great fundraising, but they also have great needs.”

The Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps (WVAC) had only requested a small increase in their operating budget, but they also asked for an additional $54,000 in capital expenses:  $12,000 for the garage insulation and $43,000 for a vehicle. “She even noted they usually only ask for half the cost of the vehicle,” Vanderslice said, adding that it’s “getting trickier and tricker” for WVAC to fundraise.

Making cuts from requested budget amounts originally earmarked for non-profits might have to happen, because, according to Vanderslice, meeting the Board of Finance’s $300,000 reduction target might be difficult.

“I guess what I’m saying is if we have to produce $300,000, I can’t produce it all on just the town side,” she said.

Expect Tax Increases, Not Just Budget Cuts

Vanderslice also told her board members that the BoF expects there will also be tax increases to go along with cuts they’re requesting. “I think they have a rationale for what they would like from both boards,” she said, although she said she didn’t want to speak to what the BoF will discuss with the Board of Education. “I was informed we’re going to be cut.”

Selectman Dick Dubow didn’t seemed pleased hearing the news that they’d be expected to cut more, especially since the BoS presented a budget below the zero-increase target the BoF asked them to hit early in the process.

“We get guidance, and we more than achieve what they ask us to achieve. Some of these reductions are just pushing things out. It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Vanderslice said she was somewhat surprised as well.

“Honestly, I thought we were going to be good. But I know when the mill rate model was done we were expecting a .7-percent growth, and that didn’t happen. So that right there is some amount of money. I’m not going to speak for the Board of Finance, they’ll speak for themselves on Wednesday,” she said, referring to the BoF mill rate deliberation meeting scheduled for Wednesday, April 6. “They’re looking for $300,000 and the question is whether we’ll come forward with $300,000.”

Vanderslice said she was comfortable with the $213,000 she and the department heads had found. The issue was whether the BoS would go to the non-profits “to share” and make up the $87,000 difference to hit $300,000.’

Selectmen Reaction

Dubow said he wasn’t comfortable with endorsing any figure at this point, or communicating a number back to the Board of Finance.

Selectman Dave Clune asked whether the idea of dipping further into the town reserves, or fund balance, has been considered, as some people have suggested.

“There is some room there. I know Ridgefield did that last year to flatten out and not ask for a tax increase,” Clune said.

Vanderslice said she plans to speak to that at Wednesday night’s deliberations.

“A couple things about the reserve:  One is the BoF has been talking for over a year about this. We have $3.8 million of unfunded compensated absences, and that’s a reserve we have to begin building up. You can do it by increasing operating expenses for the x number of years or you can take some of your excess fund balance. In theory you should have been reserving all along, so you have created these favorable variances. I don’t think the reserve is as big if you take that into account.”

She continued, noting that if the town dips into the reserve by $1 million this year, that would continue to add to the town’s burden in successive years, something that even in the most favorable conditions (for town revenues and income) will continue to add exponentially to the town’s obligations, pushing the gaps to be covered even wider in future years. That would set FY-2018’s already-tight budget situation off  to an even worse start, potentially needing to cover a 3-percent increase before even proposing operating budgets from the BoS and BoE.

Ultimately, the BoS decided to send Vanderslice back to the BoF saying that she was prepared with data from her departments about the $213,000 that was available to cut, but that the selectmen themselves weren’t prepared to endorse those cuts, having just seen them and discussed them for the first time Monday night.

One reply on “[UPDATED] BOF Wants Selectmen to Cut $300K More; BoS Not Ready to Say, ‘OK’”

Comments are closed.