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. Warren Serenbetz is a Republican candidate for the Board of Finance.
First, I’d like to thank GOOD Morning Wilton for giving me the opportunity to write this Op Ed and reintroduce myself to Wilton voters.
I am running for the Board of Finance (BOF) because I believe, as a former BOF chairman, I bring both unique perspective and experience that is needed at this time. I am a consensus builder and collaborative team member and I understand the requirements of a BOF member, as defined in the Town Charter. As required, I listen to input from all stakeholders in the budgeting process including other BOF members, the Boards of Selectmen (BOS) and Education (BOE), the public and town employees who often have a vested interest in budget outcomes.
I demonstrated my knowledge and approach when I served on the Board of Finance for 10 years from 2007 to 2017. While Chairman from 2008 until 2015, budgets passed on a non-partisan basis. Why? Because I encouraged discussion among the members and worked toward non-partisan consensus on all the issues facing the Board. During my tenure on the board, we also implemented the requirement of three-year projections from the BOS and BOE in order to give us some vision into future spending needs. We improved Elderly and Disabled tax relief and performed a fraud risk assessment to assure integrity in the use of town and BOE funds. While chair we improved Board transparency by implementing the televising of meetings and we changed the Public Comment section of our meeting to Public Participation. In the former a meeting attendee could speak and that was it; with the latter there was a dialogue back and forth between the Board and the speaker–enhancing communication.
In addition to the BOF, I served on the Wilton Employees Retirement Trust, the OPEB Trust and the Pension Trust Investment Committee, where I advocated, along with others, for reasonable actuarial assumptions and implemented policies to overfund the actuarially required contributions to those trusts in order to more quickly achieve 100% funding. As a result, we have some of the best funded plans in the state, with the Pension Trust over 95% funded and the OPEB Trust 100% funded.
After leaving the BOF I was appointed to the Board of Assessment Appeals where I also served as chairman during my tenure. What struck me most, as I served in that role, was the number of people for whom taxes were detrimental to the sale of their home. That’s why I believe that Wilton’s ability to tax its citizens is not justification to do so.
The Town Charter requires the BOF members to determine if they can find savings in the BOS- and BOE-submitted budgets. Every line in the Selectman and School budgets need to be vetted to make sure that they 1) meet a need for service or educational excellence, and 2) are delivered in the most cost-effective way possible. My priorities are public safety and classroom effectiveness. That means that any budget item that does not directly affect classroom learning or the safety of our citizens is up for scrutiny.
My wife, Cindi, and I moved to Wilton in August 1984. We chose Wilton because compared to other towns it provided great schools with more house for the money, reasonable taxes and a decent commute to my job in Greenwich. We have three children who went entirely through Wilton schools and then on to excellent colleges and to having productive lives. We joined Hope Church soon after coming to Wilton where my wife and I ran a junior high youth group open to all Wilton students and where I later served as treasurer and an elder. When my oldest son was in Scouts I was the dad who taught the salesmanship merit badge. We believe in education. Our family foundation actively supports closing the opportunity gap for underserved children by supporting, with time and dollars, local organizations such as Horizons – New Canaan, the Carver Center and the FCA After School Program to name a few. We love Wilton and we recognize that Wilton’s strength is its people. I recognize that everyone brings a different perspective and all perspectives can add value to any given issue.
So, why Warren Serenbetz? As I have successfully done in the past I will work collaboratively with colleagues on the board regardless of party affiliation. My goals are to provide financial support for ideas leading to economic growth and educational excellence while maintaining a balance between town and school spending needs and the level of taxation on Wilton’s citizens. I respectfully ask for your vote.