As part of GOOD Morning Wilton‘s coverage of the elections for the 2019 municipal elections, we have set out guidelines inviting each candidate to submit one 800-word op-ed piece before Election Day. Peter R. Balderston is a Republican candidate for the Board of Finance.
I am a member of Wilton’s Board of Finance running for a second, four-year term. I have lived in Wilton for over 28 years, raising three children who are now out on their own. In addition to valuable experience as a Board of Finance member, I have over 35 years of professional experience at financial services firms including JP Morgan and its predecessor banks, most recently serving in both CFO and COO capacities.
The primary responsibility of the Board of Finance is to recommend a budget and mil rate to Wilton’s voters. During the last four years, I have been committed to maintaining a strong school system and high-quality town services while also being realistic about their costs in a time of sluggish real estate markets, lower school enrollments and a challenging state fiscal environment. My priority is to continue improving Wilton’s schools and quality of life at a cost that residents can afford, now and in the future.
As one of the Board of Finance members serving on the Board of Education’s Finance Subcommittee (aka “Business Operations”), I have worked with Board of Education members and superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith toward the goal of reducing non-teaching related costs, allowing these savings to be re-invested in student-facing activities. This budget analysis requires a deep examination of the school district’s budget and actual results. Doing this has, as an example, allowed me to learn that the Board of Education had been over-budgeting their medical costs by using ‘preliminary premium rates’ rather than ‘final rates,’ which have been consistently lower. In developing the fiscal year 2020 budget, the Board of Education was able to draw down $800,000 in excess reserves to offset $800,000 in wages and other cost increases.
The Board of Education budget has also benefited financially from sharing administrative personnel and software expenses with the Town. The sharing of administrative personnel began in 2016 with the sharing of the Town’s facilities director, eliminating a duplicate position at the Board of Education. In 2017, the Town’s CFO Anne Kelly-Lenz assumed responsibility as CFO for our schools, thereby allowing the Board of Education to eliminate that position. The CFO change also allowed the Board of Education’s financial systems to be replaced by the Town’s financial systems, thereby eliminating duplicate software expenses. This change has resulted in stronger financial controls and additional savings in insurance and other non-teaching costs.
The Board of Education budget has also benefited from energy cost savings via a partnership with the Board of Selectmen through 1) the installation of solar panels on school roofs, generating more than 600,000 kWh per year, and 2) the Town’s participation in virtual net metering solar (VNM) projects, generating more than 2.7 million kWhs of energy per year, of which more than 2 million will begin benefiting our schools in December. Projected savings from this partnership is expected to yield $250,000 in annual savings while also benefiting our environment.
The Board of Education and Board of Selectmen budgets have also benefited from conservative fiscal policies related to town employee pensions and other benefit obligations. These expenses decreased in the previous and current year’s budget, as their pensions are nearly fully funded and other employee benefit obligations are fully funded. Wilton has some of the highest funding rates in the state for its employee pensions.
Uncovering and realizing these types of cost savings opportunities has allowed the Board of Finance to recommend budgets with a 1.59% four-year average annual growth rate, despite a revaluation which resulted in an almost 4% decrease in overall residential values and a 2% decrease in the total taxable Grand List. During this same period, the Board of Education was able to increase 2020 Per Pupil Expenditure to $21,195 (based on September 2019 opening school enrollments), its highest level in Wilton’s history. During my tenure, this represents a 2.64% average annual rate of increase, well above the average annual rate of inflation of 1.88% for the same four-year period.
Currently, I am serving on the Board of Education’s Teachers and Administrators Collective Bargaining Negotiations team. As a member, my goal is to represent the taxpayers, while ensuring appropriate and reasonable compensation for teachers and administrators.
In a second term, I will continue to focus on the following goals:
- Preserve first-in-class schools for Wilton
- Support infrastructure improvements and Town amenities
- Maintain Moody’s Aaa rating of Wilton’s bonds
- Promote fiscal responsibility
- Protect property values by maintaining a reasonable rate of tax
I appreciate your consideration and vote.