The Wilton League of Women Voters invited Wilton’s first selectwoman, Lynne Vanderslice, to give an update on what’s happening at Town Hall. She addressed the group at its first meeting of the year Wednesday, Sept. 12. GOOD Morning Wilton came along to hear what Vanderslice told them. It’s your chance to catch up on the Latest from Town Hall.
Infrastructure is a big priority for town officials.
Vanderslice says there are a number of projects currently “in play.”
- Two years after a successful installation of the new coconut husk turf at the high school stadium, the town decided to install the same type of turf at Lilly Field. Rainy weather hampered the hoped-for opening before school started but hopefully it will be finished by this weekend.
- The Schenck’s Island/Merwin Meadows (SIMM) Committee selected a designer who will solicit public input about what is needed/desired for the parks and then present options to the committee and eventually to the whole town. Officials want to keep the cost under $1 million: “The expectation is that most of that money will be donated money.” Updates will likely be done over a five year period. Merwin Meadows will be a more “active park” and Schenck’s Island will be for “more passive activities.” “We don’t want to lose the whole nature aspect of Schenck’s. That’s a big reason why people come to this community and we want to keep it that way. We want to make the river more of a component of downtown than it is now,” Vanderslice says.
- The town will address replacing the aging, crumbling stadium track as part of the 2020 budget process.
- The town continues to seek additional funding for the pedestrian bridge (connecting the train station to Wilton Center). Although the town had a state grant lined up to fund the majority, the proposed cost came in “substantially more than the grant.” Also, the funding “…got mixed up with when the governor held back funding for all grants so … once we get past the election, hopefully we’ll have some more funds that will become available to us,” Vanderslice said.
- The Fire Station 2 Building Committee has been busy: the septic has been determined to be ok, they’ve located a source for potable water, and some oil tanks on the site were removed because of a drainage issues. Now, the Fire Commission is re-examining if there’s really a need to expand capacity from two personnel to six personnel at that station. “The committee did look at the actual number of nights that we had more than two people there and it doesn’t seem to justify any expansion.” It was also determined that there in no need for an ambulance there or the ability to house two DPW workers during storms.
The committee is also hoping that the renovation doesn’t have to be too extensive–and therefore can be less expensive. They believe the height of the doors can be increased without raising the roof. “We’re waiting for the final engineering report, but if that turns out to be the case, we will be significantly reduced in scope, and significantly reduced in price, which is good because we have a lot of town facilities that need a good amount of work,” Vanderslice said.
- The Police HQ/Town Hall Campus Committee has also been busy. Police HQ is well beyond capacity (built for 27 male officers, and we now have 44 male and female officers), and has a number of other issues within that building. The committee determined that a renovation can be done on the town campus. “When I came into office, the thought was that we had to build an all new police station on [another town-owned], valuable piece of land and so the good news is we don’t have to do that. We can expand and refurbish and we still have that other valuable piece of land to sell or to use for some other need.”
Both the town hall and the annex are in poor condition. One section of roof that has had extensive leaks is being replaced, and they may need to accelerate fixing the rest especially with the most recent rains.
- Last year, for the first time, the DPW paved 15 miles of Wilton roads, and DPW is on target to pave another 15 miles of roads this year–if the rains stop. The town did increase the size of the highway department, which does all the road prep, patches potholes, cuts back overgrowth on the sides of the roads for the overgrowth. And they’re playing catch-up after years of working on special projects, like the sidewalks downtown. Much of the routine work, like cutting back the overgrowth, wasn’t happening in those years. “We want as many people out in the field doing as much as work as possible because that’s really the impact residents see. I think we’re in a very good shape there,” Vanderslice said.
How Does Wilton’s Economy Look
Commercial Real Estate
Vanderslice said that despite issues with Connecticut’s economy, there are some positive signs for the future of Wilton’s economy. She pointed to several commercial real estate developments in the works.
- The Sunrise Assisted Living Facility (on the old Young’s Nursery property at 211 Danbury Rd.) is well underway.
- ASML is expanding.
- Western Connecticut Medical Group has moved into the first floor of the new medical building across the street, with more tenants to come.
- The proposal for Wilton Heights/300 Danbury Rd. is still a very active application.
- Plans are expected soon for a project at the corner of Danbury and Sharp Hill Rd. According to Vanderslice, it will not look like the strip mall pictured on the sign.
- Plans may also soon be public for a project in development for property on Pimpewaug Rd. near at Rt. 7/Danbury Rd.
- Two Wilton Corporate Park office buildings–50 & 64 Danbury Rd.–were in foreclosure this summer. There was no bidder who met the minimum at auction. What will happen there will be interesting. Vanderslice said that if it does get purchased below market rate, it may undercut rent prices in the area; but if it gets redeveloped as residential it might be helpful to that area of South Wilton.
- 10 Westport Rd. is for sale.
- Other properties on Rt. 7 have sold as well.
Most of the changes won’t impact the grand list this year because they won’t be completed in time.
Town of Wilton’s Fiscal Health
Vanderslice says the town’s fiscal health “is very very strong.”
“The last three Board of Selectmen budgets have averaged only a 1.1% increase, which is a slow down in the growth of what we had seen in the past. The Board of Selectmen has returned over $2 million dollars to the general fund in the last three years. A big part of that was because of labor savings. We’ve had a lot of vacancies, we’ve had a lot of change in personnel, which is not unexpected based on the length of service of our employees. A lot of them have been there for a long time. We knew that they were approaching retirement age.”
Vanderslice added that officials look at every vacancy and ask if it needs to be filled. There have been some labor savings but that can put a lot of stress on the other employees. “Everybody’s working very hard.”
Moody’s reaffirmed Wilton’s Aaa rating at the last bond offering earlier this year.
Wilton’s pension is close to being fully funded. The town does an extra payment each time, and the current stock market level is helping. “If the market stays up, we’ll continue to be in great shape. But that will have a positive impact on us if we reach that fully-funded mark.”
But there are “huge concerns” about what impact of the loss of the SALT [state and local tax] reduction. Vanderslice says she worries that this may impact how the town reacts at budget time next May. [Changes to the federal tax law will mean less deductions for residents for state and local taxes.] “People are going to get to April, their taxes will be done, and they’re not going to be happy with the result. And I’m very worried about what pushback is going to happen at the May annual town meeting.”
Wilton is also working collaboratively with other towns to look for opportunities for shared services. One particular area that officials are looking at is the possibility of a participating in a shared health insurance plan–right now Wilton is self-insured and medical insurance is the number one budget driver. Vanderslice is waiting for an evaluation of the state plan.
Town of Wilton Municipal Operations
Vanderslice is trying to get the word out about openings on town boards and commissions. When she first came into office, there was a big increase in the number of people applying to be on boards and commissions, which meant even turning people away. “We have seen a drop off on that initial excitement.”
Turnout for town votes also dropped off from great turnout in 2016, to lower turnout in 2017, despite increased outreach to remind people about the Annual Town Vote.
The town is using social media more, although Vanderslice cannot correspond with people via Facebook.
The number of FOIA requests have decreased.
Vanderslice brought on Sarah Gioffre as coordinator of community affairs. She has been responsible for implementing See Click Fix and will be overseeing implementation of a new town website, which will be much more customer friendly.
Gioffre will also work with environmental affairs director Mike Conklin on a new campaign with Keep America Beautiful, and implement more initiatives with recycling and sustainability. The town will be rolling out programs on increased recycling, including resident education; and awareness about reducing the usage of plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic containers, and more;
Vanderslice is also looking into a putting together a traffic information session for residents. She’s aware of problems caused by traffic diverting to roads like Belden Hill Rd., Hurlbutt St. and more that have become commuter cut-throughs, and is keeping an eye on the State Dept. of Transportation proposed rotary on Belden Hill and Wolfpit Rds.
Vanderslice is also continuing to hold monthly “Lunches with Lynne” sessions for residents. She will continue to announce dates during her remarks at Board of Selectmen meetings, and notices for those can be found on her Facebook page as well as on GOOD Morning Wilton.