To the Editor:
For the common good, I ask the Board of Education (BOE) to make a motion at the Town Meeting on May 3 to eliminate the proposed increase in its FY2017 operating budget if the Connecticut General Assembly does not restore Wilton’s educational cost sharing (ECS) grant before May 3. If the General Assembly does not restore Wilton’s ECS grant and we do not eliminate the proposed increase in the BOE FY2017 operating budget at the Town Meeting on May 3, we may do irreparable damage to the town’s finances. More importantly, we may do irreparable damage to the fabric of our community. If we end up in a battle where one segment of the community imposes its will on another segment of our community, all of us will lose regardless of the outcome of the vote.
We need to adjust to economic realities. The Governor has proposed cutting the entire $1.5 million ECS grant to Wilton for FY2017. In doing so, the Governor is adjusting to economic realities. The Governor has a projected $930 million deficit in the state’s FY2017 budget primarily because the state’s tax revenues are not meeting projections. The state’s tax revenues are not meeting projections because the state is now at the point where tax revenues decrease when tax rates increase. Tax revenues decrease rather than increase because more individuals, businesses and families leave the state when tax rates increase.
The same thing will happen in Wilton. We have reached the point where we cannot increase tax rates to increase revenue. Our mill rate is now higher than Norwalk, New Canaan and Ridgefield. The more we increase taxes, the more people and businesses will leave Wilton.
We do not need to increase the BOE FY2017 operating budget to maintain our great schools. We are still significantly increasing the amounts we are spending on the schools even if we do not increase the FY2017 operating budget. We are still spending millions of dollars making the Miller-Driscoll School the best it can be within our means. It is going to be a beautiful school that will make everyone feel good about our schools and our town. We are proposing to spend another $650,000 on a new turf field for the high school that has green organic fill and concussion padding to protect our environment and our young athletes. Our superintendent and Board of Education are the best people we could possibly have leading our schools. They can still continue to deliver A+ schools without increasing their FY2017 operating budget.
We do not have any choice. If the BOE increases its operating budget by the $800,000 that has been proposed, and the ECS grant is eliminated as the Governor has proposed, the BOE is going to begin FY2017 on July 1, 2016, with a $1.2 million deficit in their budget. (They budgeted receiving a $1.2 million ECS grant.) The only way to fill this hole will be to take from other vital town services and cut into our reserves. Raising taxes more than we are already raising them is not an option.
We all win if the Board of Education does not increase its FY2017 operating budget because none of us will lose what brought us to Wilton in the first place—a sense of community where we value our schools and every person who lives or works here. Even if the BOE does not ask for an $800,000 increase its FY2017 operating budget, we are still going to have a $400,000 hole to fill if the General Assembly does not restore the ECS grant, and taxes are still going to go up to pay for the Miller-Driscoll School and the new turf field at the high school, among other things, even if the General Assembly restores the ECS grant. No one is going to be completely happy with this result, but no one should be completely unhappy with it either because all of us will have sacrificed something to contribute to the common good, which is the essence of our community.
Michael Kaelin is a member of the Board of Selectmen and second selectman. This letter offers his opinion as a Wilton resident only; it does not reflect the views of the Board of Selectmen.