The following article was contributed by the Wilton League of Women Voters.
It’s that time again, for Wilton’s Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 2 at 7 p.m. at the Clune Center (395 Danbury Rd.).
The “Town Meeting” is the oldest form of local governance in the nation and traditional to small New England towns. It is a form of direct democracy in which the whole community comes together to determine local policy and budgets.
What happens at a Town Meeting?
Citizens are legislators. Neighbors sit side by side and work out what they think is best for the community they share. The volunteers serving on Wilton’s town boards present their recommended school budget, town budget, bonding proposals and other critical issues facing the town. Residents pose questions, get real information, and debate merits and concerns. Then they vote on the budgets and particular resolutions the boards have submitted for consideration.
Who can come, and who can vote at the Annual Town Meeting?
All Wilton residents can attend. All residents registered to vote in Wilton can vote; and in addition, citizens who have real property and/or vehicles valued at $1,000 or more on Wilton’s last-completed Grand List can vote.
Will the Annual Town Meeting represent the wishes of town residents?
Yes, if residents show up. According to Wilton’s Town Charter:
- Participants at the meeting can move to decrease a budget line item on the BOS municipal budget proposal, or the overall BOE school budget proposal, but not to increase either.
- Voters at the Annual Town Meeting have three ballot options for the budget:
- Yes, approve
- No, the budget is too high
- No, the budget is too low
- Unless a minimum of 15% of eligible Wilton voters show up, the budget is automatically passed as proposed. In recent years, voter turnout has sometimes missed this threshold.
- If at least 15% of registered voters cast votes at the Annual Meeting (and at the adjourned vote the following Saturday), then the voters determine the outcome. According to the town charter, if that 15% threshold is not met, then the recommendations of Wilton’s elected boards are enacted and will take effect. That is: if too few eligible voters attend the Annual Town Meeting, they are allowing others to speak for them.
Do folks actually show up?
Voter turnout at Wilton’s Town Meeting waxes and wanes. In high-constituent-interest years, debate is quite lively, and residents make budget motions from the floor to decrease the budget, which are then voted on. In low-constituent-interest years, fewer than 15% of eligible voters turn up to cast their votes and the budget passes by default.
Wilton’s last Town Meeting in 2022 was a low-interest year; fewer than 150 residents showed up for the meeting and — for the first time since 2014 — no floor motions were made. When interest is high, turnout is greater: the last time Wilton exceeded the 15% benchmark was 2017, when the ballot included a change in the town’s liquor ordinance.
When is the next Town Meeting & Budget Vote?
The Annual Town Meeting is generally held on the first Tuesday evening in May with an adjourned vote on the following Saturday for those unable to attend the meeting in person. This year the Annual Town Meeting has been set for Tuesday, May 2, 2023, at 7 p.m. The Adjourned Vote will be Saturday, May 7, 2023, from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Voting on machine ballots will begin as soon as the meeting is adjourned. All eligible voters will vote at the Wilton High School Clune Center.
What’s on the Annual Town Meeting ballot?
Wilton’s elected representatives on its town boards — particularly the Boards of Selectmen, Education, and Finance — have worked assiduously to determine the proposed town budget. (Wiltonians will vote on the mill rate derived from this proposed budget, in essence voting on the taxes needed to cover what the town will have to spend to provide the operations and services outlined in the budget.) As well, voters will vote on five bonding referendum questions totaling $4.1 million, including $1.9 million to enable the construction of a new turf field.
Prior to Wilton’s Town Meeting, the registrars of voters will display a Sample Ballot on the town website, which will also be available on the Wilton League of Women Voters website, and on GOOD Morning Wilton.
The Wilton Board of Education budget will also be publicly available on the Wilton School District website’s Board of Education page.
The Board of Selectmen’s town budget information is available on the Town of Wilton website.
In the meantime, check the town calendar for the schedule of board meetings and hearings open to the public.
I’m eligible to vote in Wilton, but… I haven’t registered yet. Is there still time?
Yes. Eligible voters with a valid Connecticut driver’s license can register online through the CT Secretary of State’s website or via this QR code:
Eligible voters can also register in person to vote at Wilton Town Hall (283 Danbury Rd.) Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; or download a voter registration application from the Town of Wilton website.