In “Very, Very Busy” Times for Wilton, Selectmen Pause to Discuss Priorities — Transfer Station Changes, Affordable Housing & More

Wilton's Town Administrator suggests municipal solid waste is one issue that has reached "crisis" proportions

photo: Town of Wilton Zoom recording, October 3, 2022

After wrapping up a discussion of the Board of Selectmen‘s current activities and priorities for the coming months, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice commented, “You can see we have a very, very busy plate.”

Indeed, the agenda for the Monday, Oct. 3, BOS meeting covered topics that ranged from bridges to broadband to bathroom access for youth sports teams — and much more.

Among the many agenda items addressed during the meeting, the selectmen took time for a discussion of “priorities,” giving some insight as to their short- and long-term goals for the Town.

But first, Town Administrator Matt Knickerbocker gave the selectmen an update on waste management and recycling — and what he considers to be a real crisis facing municipalities like Wilton when it comes to municipal solid waste.

“A Silent Crisis”

Knickerbocker serves as the Town’s representative to the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority (HRRA) and also serves as co-chair to the Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Material Management (CCSMM), an initiative under Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) with over 100 participating municipalities.

“Connecticut is certainly undergoing a silent crisis,” Knickerbocker said, as he described the state’s aging or closed incineration plants, skyrocketing costs, and other issues impacting waste management.

He emphasized the urgent need to reduce solid waste and increase recycling.

“There is no one solution, but a lot of smaller solutions that will add up,” he said.

Wilton’s transfer station processes about 3,000 tons of solid waste each year. Knickerbocker noted the biggest opportunities are to reduce the paper, paperboard and food waste that currently account for almost half of all municipal solid waste.

Knickerbocker went on to highlight several HRRA and CCSMM initiatives aimed at helping municipalities manage rising costs and achieve the desired progress, such as negotiating lower tipping fees, promoting household hazardous waste events, and expanding programs on food scrap collection/composting.

Knickerbocker’s entire presentation can be also be found on the Town website.

BOS Priorities

The agenda turned to a planned discussion of the board members’ individual thoughts on BOS priorities.

Vanderslice’s fellow selectmen outlined their own priorities in documents posted on the Town website.

Second Selectman Josh Cole spoke first. His comments focused on addressing deferred repairs and maintenance projects at the schools and municipal buildings, as well as the need for an action plan for “mobility and accessibility improvements” at public buildings and in public spaces.

Cole also reiterated the board’s commitment to bringing a new turf field to reality.

Selectman Ross Tartell framed his thoughts as taking a broader view for 2023 objectives.

Tartell is calling for a “detailed needs assessment” of mental health issues which would bring focus to areas of greatest need, particularly to the youth population and growing anxiety and depression levels.

“It demands resources,” Tartell said.

He would also like to see some “alignment” of various private groups working on issues related to Wilton’s open spaces land use and conservation. An “umbrella organization”, Tartell says, could help “advance goals and make more efficient use of public and private funds.”

Tartell sees land use even more broadly as a top priority.

“There is tremendous interest in developing a number of prime real estate locations,” Tartell said. “That must be managed so that [it] yields the best outcome [for Wilton].”

“There is enormous need for diversified housing,” Tartell continued. “Seniors want to downsize, and with ASML moving 1,000 jobs to Wilton, their employees need to have a place to live.”

“Wilton has created an affordable housing plan. That plan needs to be taken to its logical next steps,” Tartell added.

He also sees opportunities for synergy between Wilton and neighboring communities when it comes to municipal services. He cited WestCOG efforts that would have “dual goals” of improving services in Wilton and lowering Wilton’s tax burden.

Selectwoman Kim Healy added two priorities to the discussion.

First, she is seeking a review of fees for small businesses, including comparisons to nearby towns, in the hopes of offering some fee reductions.

Second, when it comes to budget proposals, Healy wants to see more projections.

“We currently present a proposed budget plus two years of projections,” Healy said. “During the budget review process, we didn’t discuss the projections. I recommend we do so for the FY2024 budget review and consider developing projections beyond just the two years.”

[Editor’s note: Selectman Bas Nabulsi did not discuss his priorities during the meeting, but referred to comments he made during the Sept. 7 BOS meeting. At the time, Nabulsi listed his three priorities for the board as following up on implementing recommendations made in Wilton’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD); the Transfer Station and potentially adding residential composting services; and affordable housing on town-owned property.]

Vanderslice’ View

“These are all good suggestions,” Vanderslice told the selectmen.

She then reviewed a set of priorities already in place for the next six months (Oct. 1, 2022-March 31, 2023). A document outlining those priorities can be found on the Town website. They include:

  • The new Wilton police headquarters — shovel ready for spring 2023
  • Plan for an overhaul of the transfer station and expansion of services
  • Implement new Parks and Recreation programming and field/lights scheduling software
  • Support P&Z’s Amenities Master Planning Subcommittee
  • Negotiate a new 15-year lease for state-owned land at Allen’s Meadow/DPW lot
  • Execute against approved infrastructure spending and emergency repairs (including, among others, the Town Hall pillars/steps; the pedestrian bridge in Wilton Center and other bridge replacements; the flood mitigation work at the Wilton High School sports field complex; Schenck’s Island parking lot and Merwin Meadows playground improvements; and the ongoing implementation of the new emergency communications system)
  • Advance economic development, including a plan for online permitting, a revised Guide to Opening a Business in Wilton, and recommendations for changes in sign regulations (a task Vanderslice recently assigned to the Economic Development Commission)
  • Improve cell and broadband services in Wilton
  • Identify and advance additional grant opportunities, including collaboration with Friends of Ambler Farm for grant funding for renovations to buildings on the property
  • Advance the study of Town-owned New Street properties for low-density, more affordable housing in collaboration with the Housing Committee
  • Monitor State 2023 legislative activity and initiatives which could impact Wilton
  • Finalize negotiation of the Firefighters’ pension contract renewal, initiate negotiation of the AFSCME contract renewal, present and adopt an updated employee handbook and implement new HR application software
  • Provide support to Registrars for November 2022 federal and state election, and support for an expected increase in absentee ballots
  • Fill vacancies on appointed boards and commissions
  • Develop an efficient proposed FY2024 budget that 1) supports the needs of the Town, 2) meets residents’ expectations as to levels of service, and 3) at an acceptable cost to the taxpayers, recognizing several areas of rising or uncertain costs
  • Develop FY2024 bonding schedule
  • Identify and recommend new finance and HR enterprise software
  • Continue to provide services in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

WARF Request for Change to Stadium Bathroom Policy

Scott Lawrence, WARF’s liaison to Wilton’s town government, has submitted a request to the Town for bathrooms at the Wilton High School stadium complex to be open and available to youth sports participants on weekends.

Currently, the Town charges a fee of $90 to groups registered to use the fields and who must request the bathrooms be opened.

“The WARF youth sports groups would appreciate having stadium complex bathrooms open all day on Saturdays and Sundays for the Fall and Spring seasons as a town-provided service,” Lawrence wrote in an email to Vanderslice. “This would accommodate weekend games, practices and events occurring anywhere on the complex, i.e., softball, baseball, football, field hockey, lacrosse.”

Lawrence noted that the request was only for the weekends.

“For weekdays, the sports groups would continue to arrange and pay for the portable bathrooms,” he wrote.

Vanderslice noted that there had always been some reticence to leave the bathrooms open because of the potential for damage. Notwithstanding that concern, Vanderslice believed the request was something the Town could agree to, anticipating that the cost would be nominal.

Knickerbocker thought the request made sense and said “a budget and logistical framework” would be prepared within a few weeks. Vanderslice thought a new policy could be implemented in the current sports season on a test basis.

More BOS Business

  • Director of Public Works/Town Engineer Frank Smeriglio received the board’s approval to proceed with an agreement with Morton Salt, Inc., for the purchase of road salt.
  • At the suggestion of a town auditor, the board agreed to create an “Infrastructure Improvement Fund” separate from the “Town Properties Fund” (also referred to as the “Infrastructure Fund”) to more clearly account for revenue from town-owned properties and budget savings applied to infrastructure projects.
  • The selectmen unanimously approved the appointment of four residents to the Planning & Zoning Commission Amenities Master Planning Subcommittee, as proposed by commission chair Rick Tomasetti. They include Scott Lawrence, John Macken, Donna Merrill, and Patti Temple. Vanderslice noted, “All four individuals have served on one or more Town boards or commissions and have served in a leadership capacity in one or more organizations. They represent diversity of gender, stage of life and area of interest.”
  • Vanderslice informed the selectmen of a critical need for new appointments on the Parks and Recreation Commission. Two commissioners, Kevin Ring and Joe Guglielmo, are resigning from the five-member commission. “We’ve really got to get going on that committee. That’s an important committee,” Vanderslice said.

Emphasis on Grants

  • Smeriglio received the board’s approval on his request to submit a LOTCIP application for the cost of repairs to Scribner Hill Road, which was previously reported to have significant stability issues believed to be due to loose ledge beneath the roadway. LOTCIP is the State of Connecticut‘s Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program, which provides state funds to municipal governments for major projects.
  • The selectmen authorized Vanderslice to proceed with an application for the Connecticut Challenge Grant in the hopes of securing funding for planned improvements at the Merwin Meadows playground and Schenck’s Island parking lot. Though Vanderslice cautioned the application process is “highly competitive,” the grant could provide $1 million with a $500,000 town expenditure.
  • The board unanimously approved a grant application for the Town’s FY2023 Distracted Driving High Visibility Enforcement (DDHVE) program.