The following letter was written to the members of the Board of Finance, and is being published here at the request of the author.
Dear Board of Finance Members,
“There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,
Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
Wednesday night the Board of Finance has a perfect opportunity to rise above the conflicts of the last few years and lead the town into a refreshing era of comity and cooperation. It is in position to bridge the gaps among warring constituencies and endorse future cooperation among the Town’s many stakeholders.
To achieve this, the Board should take a hard look at its Mil Rate Model and what the electors in Town desire:
- The Board of Ed, the hundreds who attended the largest public hearing in 20 years last week, and the many who moved to town because of the quality of education desire no or small cuts to the school budget.
- Special Ed, Struggling Students and their families, who depend on Wilton Schools to provide cost effective and improving services, desire that the District Management Council’s (DMC) June report be implemented on a carefully considered basis. Immediate cuts in special ed, a reported area of Board of Finance focus, run the risk of exposing the town to increasing lawsuits and sub-optimal educational outcomes.
- Taxpayers desire zero increases. Some cannot understand why, in a year of tight-fisted expense control, discretionary fund balance contingency is being increased 50-percent%. This is an area completely under Board of Finance control.
- Realtors would like to point to hard evidence of de minimus (or zero) tax increases as the town closes the apparent taxation gap with surrounding towns.
I have studied the Mil Rate model, the June, 2015 DMC “Special Education & Struggling Students Opportunity Review,” and the latest (March 5, 2015) Moody’s report. As a result, I believe even more strongly these objectives may be accomplished without smoke, mirrors and undue risk. On Wednesday, the Board of Finance can take the tide at the flood, keeping Wilton away from shallows and miseries:
- The Board of Finnace can honor its commitment to the Board of Education by cutting about $137,000. This would bring that budget down to the 1.1-percent increase targeted in the Board’s guidance and lower than any surrounding town. To quote Board chair Jeff Rutishauser: “This is one of the lowest budget increases in history. . . . We commend the Board of Ed and Dr. Kevin Smith, superintendent of Wilton Public Schools.”
- The Board of Finance can reduce its proposed contingencies from 12.2-percent to 10.2-percent, still above the alleged “Moody’s Mandate.” Charter Authority and Fund Balance contingencies are not well understood, and hence provide a chance for the Board to to tax in advance for future possibilities. As I previously noted, the Town supported a AAA rating with fund balances in the 4-6 percent range. Indeed, a careful reading of Moody’s report notes reveals no mandated minimum fund balance. The fund balance is only one of many factors which go into establishing a bond rating, according to Moody’s.
These two actions would result in a FY 2017 mil rate equal to that of the current tax year: No Tax Increase!
It is my fervent hope that Wednesday night’s Board of Finance meeting will be marked with careful consideration of the Board’s opportunity to set a flat mil rate. The Board has a perfect opportunity to seize the day: to lead the Town into a more thoughtful and constructive future, putting an end to the divisiveness of the past few years.