The Board of Finance faces the unenviable job of setting the mill rate and finalizing Wilton’s proposed budget at this week’s mill rate deliberation meeting(s), which have been finalized for this Wednesday, April 6 (and if needed, Thursday, April 7). Once the budget is set, the town will have the opportunity to discuss and vote on it at the Town Meeting on May 3 and adjourned voting on May 7.

What goes into finalizing that mill rate and budget? Board of Finance chair Jeffrey Rutishauser, explained during the two budget hearings last week that there were four things they consider in doing that job:

  1. The views of voters expressed at these town hearings and in direct communication.
  2. The Financial resources of the town
  3. Whether the Board of Ed and Board of Selectmen can find savings in their respective budgets
  4. The appropriateness of revenue, debt service and General Fund balance amounts

[We’ve published Rutishauser’s complete presentation, and that can be found by clicking here.]

Well before the hearings, on March 21, Rutishauser published a letter in GOOD Morning Wilton, asking residents to write emails, attend meetings, and speak up to let the Board of Finance know their views, because, “The entire [budget] process is designed for our citizens to participate, to be heard and to have significant input into the town’s budget.”

Last week the town held its two budget hearings, one of which was very heavily attended, with an auditorium filled just about to capacity for the education budget hearing. We summarized all the comments made by residents during the public comment section on our live blog of the hearing. By our count, there were 29 comments in support of the current school budget, and 5 comments asking for cuts, and 4 not specific.

We asked the Board of Finance whether they would be taking into account those who spoke out and the numbers of people in attendance, the majority of whom seemed to support keeping the education budget as it was proposed by the superintendent and the Board of education. In an email, Rutishauser told GMW.com the following:

“Certainly the large turnout will be taken into account as the school budget touches many families most closely. It should be noted that there is a significant information asymmetry between those on our boards and the general public, as to be expected. We spend many hours and pour over all the detail of the budget plan in depth for both BOE and BOS and can better determine the efficiency and effectiveness of various aspects of spending than the general public can. That is what we are supposed to do. The public, including those who showed up Monday night, most likely did not request nor review any of the budget detail which is always publicly available. If they did, we would have probably gotten more detailed questions or comments than we did. So that has to be taken into account as well. But we are glad many more citizens showed up this year relative to past years. Hopefully, that will continue.

“Also, public comment is only one of four areas that the charter requires us to consider. Number two on that list is the financial condition of the Town, where we have a sizable $2.6 million deficit we need to address. We just don’t have the money we have had in past years for the reasons I mentioned in the presentations. Maybe next year will be better but this year will be a big challenge to make ends meet. We can’t print money or issue debt to cover operating shortfalls like Hartford and Washington can. We must either reduce our spending or increase our taxes. It is that simple. Nobody likes to do either. I hope you can understand the difficult decisions we will need to make on Wednesday.”

On March 29, we asked the Board of Finance for copies of emails that they received from residents about the Board of Education budget.  On March 30, they sent us 21 emails; of those we counted 16 emails with 19 signers in favor of the budget (three emails were signed by both husband and wife); and four emails/six signers opposed to the education budget; and one neutral email.  

The Board of Finance has been keeping a running tally of emails and sending periodic updates to members of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education. We asked for that tally on Sunday, April 3, but did not receive it from the Board of Finance by press time. We did, however, receive a tally dated March 29 from a member of one of the other boards. It was prepared following the education budget hearing on March 28:

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Rutishauser had this to say about the emails from residents that he has read:  “From a personal standpoint, there was a distinct difference in quality of the letters where some residents went into more explanation and color than a simple, “I like the schools. Thank you.” letter. It was these more thoughtful, often longer letters that made more of an impression on me. So quality matters as much, or more, than quantity. Something to think about.”

Still want input?

If you still want input, what can you do?

  1. Write an email to the Board of Finance, at BoardofFinance@wiltonct.org
  2. Attend the budget/mill rate deliberation meeting on Wednesday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall in meeting room B.
  3. Take our poll on Resident Opinions on the Education Budget. It’s an unofficial poll, but we’re curious about what our readers think. You can find that poll by clicking HERE.