The Wilton Board of Selectmen held a special meeting Wednesday evening (March 3) to complete their discussions of the proposed FY2022 town budget.

Earlier this week (March 1), First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice presented her budget request of $33,943,486, which is an increase of $1,027,762 (3.12%) over the FY2021 budget. (Note: this budget does not include the school budget. Superintendent Kevin Smith proposed his 2021-2022 school budget to the Board of Education on Feb. 25.)

While most aspects of the budget proposal were discussed at the March 1 meeting, some aspects were slated for discussion on March 3. This included primarily the Information Services (IS) Department budget.

John Savarese, director of the IS department, spoke about his department’s activities and the priorities behind the budget numbers.

In a lighthearted moment in the serious budget talks, Savarese used the “Saturday Night Live” ‘Landshark’ skit from the Jaws movie era, in which a shark tries various ways to find unsuspecting victims, as a fitting analogy of the threat to Wilton’s cybersecurity.

His presentation to the BOS highlighted the importance of a defensive posture against the increasing threat of cyberattacks to municipalities like Wilton and their often costly consequences.

He shared a recent example of a phishing scheme that targeted customers of ESO, a software company used by one of Wilton’s town departments. Fortunately, that scheme did not affect Wilton’s cybersecurity, but Savarese reported that the IS department’s firewall stops as much as one-quarter of all emails sent to Wilton town employees.

Savarese noted that “prevention” is also part of the plan, with what he called “very robust services” for backup of town data, including backup to “a multi-geographical, cloud backup system.”

“If we did need to recover data [say, from a ransomware attack], we can simply ‘turn back the clock’ to the way a server was before,” said Savarese.

He concluded his thoughts on cybersecurity with a reference back to the “SNL” skit.  “We want to be ready when Landshark comes,” he said.

Selectwoman Deb McFadden asked Savarese if the town had conducted a cybersecurity risk assessment. He responded that such an assessment was planned in the proposed budget, to include a “comprehensive study of our setup, our practices, defensive mechanisms and so on… including penetration testing.” (The latter refers to cyberattack simulations that would evaluate the town’s system security.)

Among the specific budget numbers discussed were $245,000 in software-related expenses. Savarese explained that costs for some software used by various town departments have gone up since last year. In addition, Wilton is simply spending more on software as many town departments conduct more business remotely and shift more services online (such as online permitting applications), often a benefit to residents.

Savarese used the following slide on the department’s contract services to illustrate what he called “an integral part of our staffing model” which he described as “a hybrid model, we don’t do everything on-premise [with employees], we don’t do everything outsourced.”

Savarese believes the hybrid model is critical for getting the right expertise where it is needed, as reflected, for example, in the shift in spending between two key vendors in FY2022 compared to FY2021.

The net increase of $15,000 in contract services over FY2021, Savarese explained, was because of necessary upgrades and “the virtualization of just about everything we’re doing.”

The IS department is also requesting some capital expenditures. Noting that capital budgets carry over for up to five years, Vanderslice asked for clarification on the request for some funds when unused funds from 2021 (and earlier) would be carried into FY2022.

Savarese pointed to a backlog of work that has resulted during the pandemic that he expects will put those funds to use. Additionally, funds approved for certain line items cannot necessarily be applied to other line items (in such a case, approved funds may simply expire and eventually move back to the general fund.)

Savarese summarized his view of the budget proposal with pride. “I’m very proud both as a member of the [town] staff but also as a resident that this town has done right by technology of all kinds,” he said. “I hear horror stories of [other towns being] understaffed, unequipped, on a shoestring, and we have never done that and I think that’s a very wise way to allocate our energies and our monies… I think we’ve done the right thing.”

Selectman Ross Tartell described Savarese’s presentation as “very informative… It ties to the direction of the town, the key strategies, the key objectives that we are striving to do…  [the budget] deals with the areas of risk that might trip us up and hurt the town going forward.”

Motion To Adopt

Upon completion of the IS discussion, and with no motions to amend Vanderslice’s overall town budget proposal, the board voted unanimously (5-0) to adopt the budget.

See the entire budget proposal here:

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Next Steps

The next BOS meeting is Monday, March 16. This meeting will include a review of the proposed budget with the Board of Finance. An agenda will be posted one business day in advance (Friday, March 13) on the BOS webpage.

The March 16 meeting is open to the public, but is being held on Zoom due to the pandemic. To attend the meeting remotely, you can find the Zoom link on the meeting agenda. To submit a comment for the meeting, send an email to Lori Bufano. Include “PUBLIC COMMENT” in the subject line along with your name and Wilton address. The email will be read and reviewed during the public comment portion of the agenda.

Two public hearings will also be held, one on March 29 for the proposed BOE budget, and one on March 30 for the proposed BOS budget.

As GMW has previously reported, the budget timeline is proceeding according to what is set in the Town Charter. Vanderslice informed the BOS in the March 1 meeting that no executive order by the governor or legislative action was expected to change the timeline; in the March 3 meeting she said she was even “more convinced” that was true. “I think the matter has been put to rest,” she said.

As such, the Annual Town Meeting will be conducted in-person, as the Town Charter requires. The ATM is currently scheduled for May 8 with the adjourned vote on May 15. Vanderslice will be working with Health Director Barry Bogle to determine where and how to do it safely, assuming social distancing precautions will still be in place (the Wilton High School stadium is one possibility.)

Budget news taking you by surprise? Not sure where we are in the process? Read our primer for everything you need to know about this year’s budget process