Former BOF Member Urges Board to Reconsider Budget Cuts and Mill Rate
The author of this letter, Richard Creeth, served on the Board of Finance from 2013 until 2018, and four terms as a selectman from 2003 until 2011. He sent GOOD Morning Wilton a copy of a letter he sent to the current members of the Board of Finance and has authorized its publication here.
To the Board of Finance:
I watched last week’s mill rate meeting on the web from Colorado with interest. As a recent member of the Board, I can appreciate, perhaps better than most, the difficult task that the Board faces in setting the mill rate. The fiscal challenges faced by the state and the potential impact on Wilton’s expenditure levels made this year’s task even more difficult than usual.
As a fiscal conservative, and a strong proponent of the upside down mill rate model, I was surprised that the Board decided to cut the Board of Selectman and the Board of Education budgets, both of which came in well below the guidance offered by the Board of Finance last fall. Both budgets are now cut back to their prior year levels–a real reduction on a constant purchasing power basis.
The justification for these further cuts was not in anticipation of further expenses imposed from Hartford (real as those are), but because the grand list declined as a result of the recent revaluation. However, as we all know, a change in grand list does not change the total tax levied by the Town of Wilton. A lower grand list raises the mill rate so as to raise exactly the same amount of taxes.
Clearly, what changed in the recent revaluation was the relative valuation of more expensive houses. It appears that residences over $1 million dollars declined in value much more than those worth less than $1 million. This means that Wiltonians living in lower valued properties may see significant tax increases but equally those living in more highly valued properties could see significant tax decreases. Despite the fact that some property owners will see increases and some will see decreases, the total tax levied will not be changed by the revaluation. I do not think that the Board of Finance should consider changes in the valuation mix when deciding what is the appropriate mill rate to recommend to Town Meeting.
I have three concerns as a result of your recent deliberations.
- The Board decided to cut expenditures for reasons that are not relevant to assessing the appropriate level of expenditures.
- By cutting both board’s budgets when they worked very hard to present budgets which [were] well within the Board of Finance guidelines undermines the credibility of the guideline methodology and will make it very difficult for the Board to recommend guidelines in the future.
- The recent survey that the Board of Finance undertook of Wilton tax payers resoundingly confirmed that people move to Wilton because of the schools and are strongly in support the school budget.
I strongly recommend that the Board reconsider its decision and recommend a mill rate which confirms the budgets as requested without further cuts.