We’ll be starting coverage of the annual town meeting at 7:30 p.m..

We may stream some bits live, check our Facebook page, and here for live updates.

7:30 P.M.

First selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice has called the meeting to order, she has nominated David Waters as moderator. He has been elected.

Waters has appointed Town Counsel Ira Bloom as Parliamentarian. Town Clerk is reading the call.

Ira Bloom is explaining the rules and procedures, and time limits, which will follow Roberts Rules of Order. He is proposing a modification to the “Call the Question” procedure.

He is also explaining the “filling the blanks” motion.

All the motions have been approved.

The Town Meeting tonight cannot INCREASE the budget as proposed by the BOF. Nor can it reduce the budget below the town’s legal obligations. Other things people can’t do…

The Town Meeting CAN reduce specific items in the BOS budget; reduce only the total BOE budget, not a particular line item…

This is how voting procedures work:  by machine, starting after tonight’s meeting and then again on Saturday, May 11, from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. in the Clune Center.

Voters can vote:

–Approve the budget
–Reject the budget as too high
–Reject the budget as too low

If voters cannot vote during machine voting, there is the option to vote by absentee ballot.

Bonding resolutions can be discussed, but there will be no motions to change the bonding resolutions at all.

Dave Waters is reading rules for participating–tie remarks to the budget, not to anything outside (e.g. Hartford). Also do not disparage other members. Guests cannot participate, cheer, clap, etc. He is reviewing how many times people can speak, how people will be able to take turns speaking, etc.

He’s reviewing how people can make motions and how they will be considered in order.

Voters were given yellow cards to help determine and make clear how many people are voting.

7:51 PM Vanderslice is presenting the bonding resolutions.

There are four bonded capital requests:  Road paving, two bridge replacements and two roof replacements (high school and town hall).

Vanderslice says the Town Hall roof is close to failure, with several leaks. A portion that will be replaced will be kept when the remainder of the town hall campus is renovated (proposed) in a few years.

The state has identified three bridges in poor condition–two of them are critical. The town would be responsible for a portion of the cost.

Discussion has been opened on the bonding questions. Again, bonding questions cannot be modified at the town meeting.

8 PM Board of Finance chair Jeffrey Rutishauser is going through the FY 2020 Budget presentation

The main financial story is the revaluation. Generally revaluation affects everyone the same, but this year it was highly unusual–There was a wide dispersion, larger properties were down more, and others were up in value–some substantially

Condo owners were especially hit hard, and some of those are the least able to anticipate a sharp tax increase.

A majority of the BOF felt there should be relief to people facing large tax increases due to revaluation, which is why the proposed budgets were cut back.

Rutishauser is presenting a 6-year history of Mill Rate increases. A mill rate would have gone to 2.56% if the budgets went through as requested. Also they are keeping mill rate increases below 2% over the last 6 years.

The BOF is making several recommendations:

The Board of Selectmen’s proposed budget–Vanderslice is presenting:

Increase in wages is less than 2% for town employees.

The town has eliminated 6.5 positions, and added 3 positions, including restoring the DPW numbers.

The town has taken several initiatives to reduce costs, including:

The town is making efforts to grow the grand list through Economic Development. If all of the projects happen, there will be an anticipated $2 million more in tax dollars, which will help cover any future pension pushdown.

8:25 PM  Board of Education Chair Chris Finkelstein is presenting the school budget and calls this an “interesting budget year.”

second 0.0% budget increase in three years.

She’s offering several successes of the schools–WPS continues to be an exemplary system, one of the finest in the nation, and a jewel of which our entire community can be proud.

  • US News again ranked WHS as top 10
  • Niche rankings
  • more below:

High quality education is expensive.

With no increase, the budget has to cover salary increases and utility cost, transportation and liability insurance. There are favorable trends in decreasing cost in medical insurance and OPEB contributions, as well as 32 fewer students. It’s across schools, continuing a downward trend.

There are initiatives–the Alternative School is chief among them. Keeping more students in district, eventually a net positive to the budget. Plus there are investments in new courses, and in teachers.

Funding was procured through a promise of funding from the Board of Finance through the charter authority.

The top 3% of new teacher candidates were hired this year.

New skills are needed in the world, and the schools need to adapt in ways to teach for 21st century skills:

Comparing to our DRG (district reference group), Wilton’s are the lowest budget increase in the DRG, and the lowest in compounded budget increases. We are in danger of falling behind as our neighbors invest. We are 6th out of 8 in per-pupil spending.

We request no additional funding, but continue the tradition of academic excellence.

80% of respondents to the BOF survey moved here for the schools. Unless we maintain the jewel, it won’t have the same lustre and appeal.

Public speakers

Unidentified Speaker:  The first speaker is questioning the Superintendent’s salary, nearly a quarter of a million dollars, which is above the governor’s salary, and nowhere near close

In the DRG-A, superintendent Smith’s salary is the lowest salary in the DRG. People are applauding the results. “We think he is worth every penny,” Finkelstein says.

The speaker is questioning a 22% increase, when other administrators are getting a 3% increase.

Gail Moskow:  The most important thing we can as a community do is provide good education. That’s why so many young families come to this town. Most people working for the district do not get paid what they deserve for what they do for our community. I submit the superintendent is not overpaid. They are running the equivalent of a corporation, and not getting paid, and yet the service they provide is the most important activity in the community.

The schools are the best use of our taxes.  Other seniors paid for our children’s education. It is our turn for us to gladly pay taxes for other people’s children.

Alex Ruskewich:  Most towns are losing population, Wilton population is also dropping, Wilton teachers are the 4th most expensive in the state of CT. They are not underpaid. An unfortunate thing about that is when the state is passing some of the pension to the towns, the amount they pass depends on how much above the average salary Wilton pays.

You have to think of the whole town, citizens who have lived here for decades who can no longer afford to live here. When you look at salaries–we have too look how we’re spending money, we can’t continue this. He moves the budget be reduced by $1.5 million from the BOE. There is a 2nd…

Now we’ve entered the Fill the Blanks–asking for a second motion to reduce. There are no more, so the only reduction that will be considered is a reduction of $1.5 million.

Matthew Mason: The budget tonight reflects an extraordinary amount of work. I know how much effort goes into scrutinizing the numbers, I have faith in the process and the people doing the work, I support the budget.

Stephen Hudspeth:  I oppose the motion, I support the budget.  I did not want to see the $1.1 million cut, it would be a disaster to take it any lower. Our schools are what make our town great, we all benefit. They are what attract new families, retain existing families, and say we are a vital, progressive, healthy community. This budget is the bare minimum to accomplish that objective.

Susan Graybill:  I have lived here for 30 years, I taught here at WHS and Middlebrook. I’m standing here to find out from their kids if they like the ways they are learning what they’re learning. The NY Times ran an article about technology on April 21, about how kids learn with Chromebooks, and students don’t interact with one another and teachers as much. Other districts have been protesting that too much time is spent using online tools, and that teachers are becoming bystanders in their own classrooms. Our teachers are our best resources. It sounds like our new instructional model here. We’re spending thousands of dollars to train teachers on the new methodology.

Ross Tartell:  I’m in support of the town and school budget. I’m opposed to the amendment to cut the budget. If you invest in schools, people follow the money. The number one district spending is New Canaan, and their enrollment is growing. We need to invest in our schools

Michelle Dunne:  I believe a flat budget is not enough, the budget needs to be cut so we can avoid the increasing burden on the taxpayers.  While I congratulate the schools on their accomplishments, the budget still has room to be reduced. If a family can reduce its budget like mine has because of CT’s economic downturn, the BOS and BOE can also reduce a budget. There is always a creative more analytic way to do that.

Natasha Ring:  a student at the HS:  We also make connections with teachers through advisory, athletics and other programs. The teachers are helping us, they are necessary, and really effective. We shouldn’t cut the budget.

Allan Nieber:  I’m nervous and don’t want to speak but I’m afraid of not speaking. I looked at the houses on the market, on Zillow. Examples, one house is worth 37% less, but taxes are 23% up. Old Belden Hill, asking 33% less than they bought it, their taxes are up 113%. Ridgefield Rd. 21 years, asking 11% less, their taxes are up 167%. There’s some real pain being felt, even at all levels of the housing market. Cutting the budget would really show the people in the town that you don’t just spend more money than last year.

Education is really important, and students are the most valuable, but throwing money at things is not the only way to make things better. I support the motion to cut $1.5 million.

Barbara Massey Bear: I have two 8th graders. I have two kids with learning challenges, and this weekend they learned William Shakespeare monologues, their teachers are exceptional. I feel your pain with your houses. We’re going to take a loss when we sell. My husband lost his job a year ago. We struggle, we cut corners all the time. Our BOE has cut corners. Two years in a row, 0.0% increase. This isn’t a game, they’re not playing a shell game. They have dealt with me with integrity and I believe the BOE has dealt with us with integrity and I trust this budget this year. I support the budget.

Peter Squitieri:  I’m concerned that if we stop investing in our schools, we will lose more property value.

Jen Hickey:  A cautionary tale:  For two years I’ve heard we’ve had the lowest increase of the neighboring districts. I work for a district that boasted the same and wound up in financial distress. I don’t think we’ve figured out a magic formula. There is no way to do this for less and provide the same education. If it were, all neighboring districts would be at 0%. A 0% increase is an actually decrease. You have to cut things from our schools to make that work. Don’t cut further, and next year, let’s not boast that we’re the lowest–that is a real negative.

Bob Cook:  I’m speaking against any more cuts, I would have supported the original higher budgets. I support moderate increases in taxes, to support the schools. When young families look at towns, I want Wilton to stand out. If they see trends that we’re holding budgets to 0% or worse, cutting. they will go elsewhere. We need to support investment the town.

Mary Higgins:  I’ve lived here since 1969. I’m a realtor, the number one reason people come to this town is for the schools. Three deals went south because of regionalization fears. The schools are our crown jewel, it’s the one reason people will continue to come to the town. The far reaching impact of this district, the community continues to give. I support this budget, the district is the best thing this town has to give.

Richard Creeth:  I would not have voted for the cut to 0%. Because I don’t think the BOF has control over relative revaluations. If lots more people get up and talk up, until we vote, it’s still on the floor.

Anna Marie Bilella:  I moved to Wilton because my family mantra was “better the next generation.” This town gave the gift of education.

Richard Dubow:  I call the Question.

Angie Bertolino:  I support the budget, we just moved here, for the schools.

[Unclear Name]:  One thing that has always been consistent has been our education system.  The more we can give to the schools the better our students will do in the world.

Gene Kopfman:  Our Grand List–I know our first selectman has tried to increase the development, she needs support. Open space is great, it doesn’t pay the bills. You see people who don’t support development at P&Z, you don’t see people who do.

The vote was taken on the motion to cut, and it failed.

A vote was taken on the motion to accept the proposed budget, as proposed by the BOF, BOS and BOE. Now the town will consider the budget as proposed, and residents and eligible property owners can vote whether to approve the budget as proposed.

Machine voting will take place after the meeting and again on Saturday, May 11, 2019, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. at the Clune Center.