To the Editor:
I sense that a majority of the members of the Board of Finance (BOF) understand that a 4.5% increase in the Board of Education (BOE) budget is not unreasonable and is actually justified in light of inflation rates and contractual commitments even taken alone.
However, some of the BOF members fear that the Wilton public views a 5.69% increase in the mill rate as simply too high. (And survey results that some of the BOF members seem to live by may be tools to consider in some capacity but they are not the same as votes. After all, we don’t elect candidates to office based on surveys!)
Those fearful BOF members feel so notwithstanding the overwhelming outpouring of resident support for the BOE budget at the BOE/BOF public hearing this past week – the best attended of those annual meetings in recent memory and with very few dissenting comments expressed on the proposed 4.5% budget increase. Residents know to come to that meeting if they feel strongly about the BOE budget either way.
My suggestion to the BOF: go with your sense that the proposed BOE budget increase is reasonable and let the people decide. The way to do that is a direct reflection of our Town Charter and its provision that allows the town budget to be decreased by a resolution approved on the floor of the Annual Town Meeting in May but not increased. That restriction on upward movement assures that the BOF need not worry about an upward budgetary move beyond its control there.
So go with the 4.5% BOE budget increase ask, the proposed 2.15% Board of Selectmen budget increase, and the resulting 5.69% mill rate increase, and let the people truly decide. We are a democracy after all.
The objection may be raised that if voter turnout is under 15%, then this proposed budget will automatically carry. But that just makes my point: if residents really feel that the increase is too high, they know how to turn out to see that it is reduced, and the Town Charter gives them the immediate power — right at the Annual Town Meeting and in subsequent voting — to do exactly that.
For the Presidential election in 2020, Wilton’s voter turnout was over 80%. And in years gone by, the Annual Town Meeting had to be moved to the Wilton High School’s Fieldhouse to accommodate all of the attendees because the issues to be addressed there then were deemed by the people of Wilton to be that significant. This vote is a pocketbook issue for which one may expect voter turnout to be high if there are strong sentiments pro and/or con.
So let the 4.5% BOE budget increase go to the voters, let a resolution be made (and that is sure to happen, as it is at every Annual Town Meeting by a dependable few) to lower the budget, and let the community speak as to how it wants to proceed. I’m willing to trust our community’s judgment not only generally but also very specifically on our education budget. They know how important that budget is and how much it needs to be approved.
The judgment on that score should not be left exclusively to the six town residents who comprise the BOF and have the power to dictate a result that may not comport with the will of the town, yet is very hard to change upwards, knowing that a vote of “too low” at the ballot box simply sends the budget back to the very BOF that came up with the “too low” figure to begin with.
So let the will of the people be known by giving it a chance to be heard in the democratic processes that we live by. Don’t put your hands on the voting scale, BOF, by positioning the town-budget issue so that as a practical matter the town vote can only come out one way.
The key question now is: Is the BOF willing to trust the public’s judgment?