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?

Steve Hudspeth

2 replies on “Letter: Let the People Decide on BOE Budget Increase — “We are a Democracy, after all.””

  1. I agree with this, and I think it also paints a positive way forward for future budget planning if the next Board of Selectmen deigns to take up the issue of charter reform.

    Because the budget is put before the voters of Wilton to approve or reject, the Board of Finance’s role in the process should be largely ministerial; the job of setting an appropriate budget for the school district and the various town departments rests with the BoE and the BoS, not with them. They can certainly scrutinize those other budgets to make sure there aren’t any mistakes or severely wasteful spending, but this idea that somehow the BoF has the magical ability to look at the state of the economy and the minds of Wilton voters and determine an appropriate level of school spending – overriding the BoE, which has just as much of a mandate for that but also possesses the notable advantage of actually knowing something about schools – is ridiculous, put forward by self-important BoF members who really ought to stay in their lane.

    So I very much hope that in the future, we might reform this process so that the BoF handles the technical accounting side of things but treats actual changes to the BoE/BoS budgets as a seldom-used reserve power; the question of values and priorities should be left to the other two boards and the voters.

    1. This “woke” idea essentially guts the role of the BOF and contradicts/nullifies the Town Charter. We are a Republic and the Board members are elected by popular vote. The results of the last election clearly indicate the majority of Wilton voters approve of incisive BOF involvement. Let’s stick within the framework of the Charter and while I’m at it, the Nation’s Constitution that is under unrelenting assault.

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