MONDAY, MARCH 27—Beginning at 7:30 p.m., GOOD Morning Wilton will be live blogging the Board of Finance‘s public hearing on the Board of Selectmen’s proposed FY’18 town budget.

Follow this page for live updates from Middlebrook Auditorium tonight.

Of course, the best view is always in person, especially if you want to tell the Board of Finance members what you want or don’t want in the budget. The meeting will be called to order at 7:30 p.m..

The meeting is NOT airing live on Ch. 79…

The meeting has started…

Town’s shortfall can only budget cuts, tax increase or combination of the two. With the challenges the town is facing, the board of education has requested a 0.0% increase, and we commend the Board of Education and the superintendent for that. It will be a management challenge to adjust staffing and services to declining enrollment, until enrollment stabilizes.

The Board of Selectmen budget request is up $1.03 million, although last year’s budget was a decrease from the prior year, so there is catching up to do with salaries.

Rutishauser is going through the presentation, the same that he gave a week ago at the Board of Education budget public hearing.

In order to develop the Mill Rate, the BoF has to consider 4 things:

How the BoF assesses resources and financial condition:

This includes the State’s possible “curveball” of passing along the unfunded teacher’s state pension, passing along a $4 million.

The following slide shows municipal aid that we won’t have in the town’s budget this year, which does NOT include that $4 million cost.

Evaluating the operating expenses, the BoF is focusing on efficient staffing and headcount control.

If we didn’t change the mil rate, we’d be $1.877 million short, and the only way to make up that shortfall is raising taxes or reducing expenses.

Lynne Vanderslice, first selectman is beginning her presentation.

She wants to focus on the grand list.

The BoS can have input through input on policy and by funding the Plan of Conservation and Development. The BoS plans on accelerating our look at the Plan.

In 2014, there was an addition of a 20 unit River Ridge Townhouse Development.

In 2015, there was

In 2016 there was Wilton Commons 2 and the Old Danbury Rd. Station Place Apartment Building. The Second Taxing District was reduced after an appeal reassessment, so the grand list decreased from that.

In 2017, we’ll look for growth. “We should see some good growth, with the assisted living facility at Young’s Nursery and the new Medical Building across from town hall. The ASML Parking expansion doesn’t bring a lot of tax growth, but it did require a change in land use (P&Z) regulations.

In 2018, there are no new projects but the 2017 projects will be completed.

Potential future projects in front of inland wetlands:  a 6 home development on the Brubeck property on Millstone Rd. There is a high level of opposition from neighbors, who have hired an attorney; also an 8-home development on conservation acres on Cannon Rd., which has also faced opposition from neighbors. Also a recent application for a sewer extension was withdrawn for the 183 Ridgefield Rd. project. The only item that isn’t controversial is another parking lot expansion.

It’s important to point out, with the parking lot expansions, there’s a need base for their employees, but there are no building space expansion.

Although there are regularly new homes and renovations to help with the grand list, the big drivers now are housing for 55-and-older population. It’s a demographic in Wilton, Fairfield County and the state. from 2000-2015, it grew 36%. Projected to grow another 25% between now and 2025. Similar numbers in neighboring towns, but none of the towns have adequate housing, including assisted living, continuing care, age-restricted (luxury or lower priced options), smaller newer housing, and one-bedroom apartments. Station Place rented out all 1-bedroom.

Also mixed use buildings with residential levels above commercial on the first floor. New Canaan is developing some projects like this as are Westport and Ridgefield. Ridgefield sold town-owned land to an age-restricted property that sold out before construction.

The other area of demand is Wellness facility:  treatment centers (addiction and outpatient), medical buildings, etc.

What’s critical for us and why we have accelerated funding for the Plan of Conservation and Dev. is we as a community need to come together and make decisions:  what do we want in the community and where are we comfortable having it? Right now we are in year 2 of a 4-year moratorium on affordable housing, with the state law that 10% of housing has to be affordable. If it isn’t, a developer can propose a project and if there is an affordable aspect they can ignore our regulations. Wilton is significantly short of that 10%. The reason we have a moratorium is to figure out how to work with developers, identify possible locations, and determine what projects are acceptable.

The process to do the plan takes 12-18 months, and is meant to be a community-wide activity. There is $50,000 in this year’s FY’18 budget to start planning that.

The Budget

Current employees are stretched.

The FY’18 budget follows 2 years when

  • FY’16 operating results were approx. $1 million less than FY’16 budget. Approximately $700,000 were labor savings due to vacancies. Existing employees were stretched thin to achieve the savings.
  • FY’17 budget is $213,000 less than FY’16 budget
  • FY’17 forecast is flat to budget

We’re now in a perfect storm:

  • Across the board our underlying costs are increasing. Including electricity, fuel, insurance and compensation related costs.
  • State support is decreasing:  health department grants, etc. causing us to assume more costs

The Budget FY’18 includes funding for:

  • update of Plan of conservation and Dev
  • Deferred maintenance on town buildings, facilities and roads
  • to complete the statutory property revaluation as of Oct. 1, 2017
  • to meet needs of increasingly aging population
  • to maintain safety of town and residents (including emergency service personnel, and more)
  • to minimize reductions in services and continue to provide services residents have come to expect.

Budget reflects savings even though it’s $1 million higher

  • Goal is not to do layoffs of furloughs, but take advantage of vacancies
  • Reduction in benefits for new non-union hires (active contract negotiations with unions, done by our own HR personnel, not a lawyer)
  • Transfer station has been running at a deficit, which would have been higher but we’re developing a plan with some changes to keep those loses in line
  • Improved alignment of Parks & Rec program fees to make the programs self-funded. Fees will change and rise.
  • Anticipating sponsorship of community events, such as July 4th. People aren’t buying parking tickets. If people are not willing to pay the tickets to fund it, we have to get sponsors or change it. Also there will be town concerts and looking for sponsors there.
  • Talking to non-profits to help them reduce their need for town funding. Example:  Trackside is looking to be independent in 5 years; Volunteer Ambulance Corp has a building fund to buy a new building but instead the town will work with them to share in the police renovation and have the ambulance stay on campus.

The operating Budget request:  $32,059,470 (increase of $1,044,279)

The Operating Capital request:  $1,174,406 (decrease of $12,283)

Wage Increase:  $263,500 (reg. earnings)

Wage Increase:  $41,900  (other forms)

Step wage increases:  $78,300

Savings of $100,000 overall.

Benefit increases were all due to group increases.

Vanderslice is outlining group insurance costs reflecting a 16% increase.

Operating Capital

Police $184,000 a good part of that is vehicles. They average a little more than 4 years per vehicle.

Fire:  There’s a piece of hydraulic equipment. If they don’t replace, they can’t get parts. It’s equipment to extract people from accidents.

Public Works vehicles need to be replaced according to planned cycle.

“We try to keep that number between $1.1 – $1.3 million every year.

Bonded Capital Requests:  Total:  $5,061,000

The number one complaint I receive is about the roads. I drive the road every time I receive a complaint, and I never get a complaint that isn’t valid. We’re looking to increase by 50% the number of miles we pave a year. We’ve been paving 10 miles/year, and we want to bring up to 15 miles/year. We want to bond on 10 years, not 20 years.

We’re looking for money to study/engineering a new police building. There will be more information at the town meeting and there will be open houses for the public to walk through. You bond the first 10% to study and come up with a plan to bring back to the town to vote on. We spent a lot of time to figure out what we need to spend on the first station II project. We’re looking to rehab the tennis courts at the high school and middlebrook. If you keep putting on top of poor surface, you end up throwing your money away. There are big cracks and we need to rip it up and do it right.

The Bus Barn is the “Worst” road in Wilton, and we’re looking to do that, as well as some roofs at the Board of Education building. Also a new elevator at Middlebrook.

They’ve now opened to questions.

Deborah McFadden:  Our employees are incredible. If you compare to surrounding towns’ staffing level, they should be applauded for accomplishing what they do. Looking to grow the grand list, age restricted housing is a genuine need, but as we look to do the development, we need to look to town values of protecting the environment and historic development.

The maintenance of the buildings certainly need to be addressed. Employees putting plastic tarp over their computers when it rains shows it is a genuine need.

I wonder if we should increase funding for seniors.

The fact you’re not doing layoffs for labor reduction is a very smart thing to do. We need to respect employees of the town.

We’ve fallen behind on the roads. We’ve balanced the budget in past year by cutting road budget, but as soon as we catch up we need to make sure we keep caught up.

I don’t play tennis but I’ve heard about them for years, and I’m glad to see it’s going to be addressed.

I’m happy to support this budget as it’s

Barbara Holdridge:  I’m a 52 year resident and in this tough budget year, there are several programs for the school in the town budget, so those are extra benefits that the younger people get and it’s important that it’s in the BoS budget.

Elaine Tai Lauria, Exec. Dir. of the Library and a resident:  Thank you for your work. Putting a dollar value on services that are hard to. Wilton Library request is 2.1% of the town’s budget. 3/4 of the budget comes from the town, which pays for operations. 25% comes from fundraising–and that’s what enables us to purchase books, 300,000 items circulated–280,000 are shared by residents. By borrowing these items, residents save $3.1 million. “This may surprise you but think of the cost of books, magazines, CD. Look at the bottom of the checkout receipt and you’ll see your savings. Wilton Library works with virtually every other organizations–marketing and promotion support, space, etc.”

Benefits to residents:  Wilton Library is a classroom outside the classroom, contributing to the intellectual environment. Students are learning, studying, Over the summer, children read thousands of pages. the Library has led STEM programming in the town. We offer over 1,000 programs annually. Printing prototypes on 3-D, learning coding and excel, streaming music, attending seminars to help entrepreneurs, health and wellness lectures, historical lecture series. the Library is Wilton’s cultural center–music, art, authors and personalities. It brings the community together in a social setting–refuge and THE place where every age group can gather and feel welcome no matter the status.

We are one of the town’s essential assets, catering to everyone’s needs. We bind our community together and make it a very special place to live. We all share one common goal:  to maintain the integrity of Wilton’s assets and make this a community where we all want to live. I urge you to support our award-winning library.

Alex Ruskewich:  Today I’m going to speak about the overall budget between the two. Some of the stuff I keep finding in the press, one is the Atlantic article:  “The unsteady future for New England suburbs:  less growth, people moving out not in, and you start to reach a point where it’s a problem. But if you price yourself out of the market, you wont have as many people.

Yesterday, the heading is, the Fairfield County Golden Goose Dying. “Starwood Capital Group” the CEO declared that Greenwich is one of the worst housing markets in the US. That Fairfield County is starting to price themselves out of the market. The town starts to get into something akin to a death spiral.

The BoS:  In 2003 meeting, to review some things that were said and that they would do. A citizen noted the Police went from 41 to 44 officers just before the widening. Why we couldn’t go back to what it was before? The people are good people, but through attrition we need to do something to maintain Wilton as a viable town.

At that time they were talking about M-D renovations taking the biggest bite–$29.01 million.

Last year Sensible Wilton did research, on some houses, the prices people bought and sold them for. The lowest lost $190,000. The highest lost $395,000. This is what’s happening in Wilton. This article from yesterday’s paper, appears in Bloomberg. People are reading it. Look at Zillow, the housing market is cold. That’s what people are saying. You can have nice plans, but if you don’t keep to a reasonable

Sensible Wilton got an email, from a former citizen. After 25 years living in Wilton, we moved to low tax, business friendly environment. Wilton and state of CT will pay people to leave the state.

Overall if we don’t keep our total mill rate flat, we’re getting ourselves into a serious… a lot of good ideas, senior housing, but will seniors want to stay if the taxes are high? People are reading this… Atlantic, the Sunday New York Times. People know this. I’m saying the key we have to do is keep the mill rate flat. I know it’s not easy and there will be a lot of fighting, but if we don’t we’ll get ourselves in a death spiral. People will look at what people are losing. My neighbor is trying to sell their house for two years.

Glenn Hemmerle:   I’m president of the Library Board of Trustees. The library has raised $850,000 just to maintain the level of services we provide. We’ve come to the BoS with a request that amounts to 0.6 of a penny per day.

I’m going to be the top guy who will lose money when I sell my house. I don’t want it to get worse, and it will if we don’t continue to invest in this community. You don’t send the signal that we believe in the town, its citizens, to invest in the town–the library, the school system–then you will  be in a death spiral.

I checked out a book today, and at the bottom of my receipt. Since August of last year, I have saved $1,260 in 7 months. It’s a meaningful amount of money.

A letter:  “Unfortunately I can’t attend. As a 15 year employee of the Library and a 32 year resident. We are so much more than just books. This past weekend 22 teens performed poetry to a full audience both nights. It’s 11th year. It’s a teen-driven performance. It allows students the opportunity to express themselves and allows the community to glimpse into the minds of students.”

Paul Bologna:  The reassessment that you mentioned, will that impact this budget?

Lynne:  No,

Paul:  Will you get a higher grand list?

Warren:  It doesn’t matter. All that’s equal. You pay the same amount of taxes.

Paul: Last week it was admirable to see the BoE come in at 0.0% budget, and they made tough decisions, despite 75% of their budget automatically increases. What I don’t see here is any tough decision. I see priorities and I agree, but I don’t see an elimination or a decrease in others. Salaries are increasing because of unions, I understand that. But I don’t see the town mentioning tough decisions that you get paid for and that people volunteer to make, as to where cuts can be. I have heard employee attrition. I don’t know how reduced enrollment affects the population.

Nobody wants to see cuts of individuals, but someone has to identify where potential cuts can be made. I haven’t heard any. All I’ve heard is attrition. Which offends no one, but it doesn’t address the request of the BoF to cut the budget by 1.25%.

It’s tough to see the BoE hold costs at 0/0% and potentially damage the jewel of Wilton. People don’t come to Wilton because of the police, fire dept. town hall or beaches or parks. But they do come for Education, and the BoE budget is getting slashed. And the Town budget is absorbing those savings. Education gets cut and the town budget goes on its business as usual.

If the economy was growing, I’m all for spending that. But when the economy has grown 3-4% over 5 years, if that, I don’t see the financial resources of the town. The only financial resource this town has is ability to tax or borrow. I don’t see things taken into consideration–like federal cuts, block grants that will come to the state. We know the state is cutting and will have an impact. Yet if we increase expenses here, putting in 0.0 for line items that we don’t know about, we’re not taking the state cuts into consideration. How will we cover those costs. How has rising interest costs been taken into consideration?

The impact on our town and other towns, how is it being taken into consideration? That’s why you serve, to make those tough decisions. I don’t see any tough decisions being made. I would like to see someone say, “Everything is a priority, but we’ve ranked them, and we can’t have roofs leaking on workers, and certain things that aren’t funded, but other things are lesser priority. Items that aren’t as high a priority have to be looked at.”

I’d welcome hearing areas that no one wants to cut but have to be looked at because there’s no choice. The ability to keep taxing residents in an economy that is flat isn’t responsible.

The values haven’t even come close to recovering from ’08/’09 debacle.  The trend is not stopping. I’d love the budget to be a 12% increase if the economy were growing at that rate and if the funds were there. In light of that, someone has to make tough decisions. Wilton will survive if the budget is cut. Budget cuts is not a disaster. Someone has to make those choices and take the heat. That’s why you’re sitting there, and I’m standing there.

I’d like to see cuts proposed, and I’d like to see the BoF demand those cuts. Because to see the BoE make the cuts and see those cuts wicked away by the BoS.

Brian Lilly:  Thank you Lynne and Anne [Kelly-Lenz] for working as hard as what we pay you.

The last speaker, those hard decisions have already been made before we got to this point. The Kristine Lilly field needs to be patched, a $700,000 field that needs to be replaced but it’s been put off. Things aren’t cancelled, they’re put off. Those hard decisions are made. You don’t see them in the power point slide because you see what’s left after the hard decisions have been made. The fire house, they’ve jerry-rigged something to get some water, rather than rebuild. There are things that have been put off down the line to keep the budget as low as possible.

Maybe the presentation can better explain those hard decisions that have already been made to let people know the work you’ve put into this.

I support the budget you’ve put into this because I know the time and effort you’ve put into it to make it as low as it is.

In order to get people to move into this town, they’re not going to want to drive down a bad road. Having those roads done will benefit all of us by filling the empty homes. We’ve got to make sure businesses have nice roads coming to the businesses. The more we get into the town, the less each of us will be responsible for. We have to invest in those things, and we’ve been putting them off and we have to catch up now.

It’s not just a tax base analysis that people go through on whether to move to Wilton or another town. We have to have those other things this budget will provide in order to get those people to move into this town and benefit all of us.

Stephen Hudspeth:  The people that work for this town, supporting them is always our top priority, it’s what make this town great. I could talk about a number of top programs, but I’d like to focus on three.

  1. Library:  I’m a user of the library and a great appreciator of the library. 100 other things, this library is an extraordinary resource, and the ability to do so as a public-private partnership, is extraordinary.
  2. The roads:  It’s a tribute to our department of public works that our snow removal has been done and handled.
  3. Lynne:  I give you credit to address things in the years they demand rather than kick things down the road. Being smart about how we spend our money is a hallmark of your service.
  4. The police department:  At the awards ceremony, and saw what they do, from every day, to extracting people from vehicles, the police cars sitting at either end of town send a message. This is what you want form care about what they do, want the right thing to be done.

I could go on and on, there are so many good stories in this town. When I moved to this town 30 years ago, the market went down. The market goes up and down. But if you kick things down the road, that’s when things go bad.

It’s to Lynne’s credit and the BoS credit, it’s not about kicking down the road. That’s what makes Wilton great and that’s what we need to preserve. What it means for our town and what it means for our future.

Moses Alexander:  Why do you characterize the school budget as flat. Flat to me, I would think in terms of per student enrollment.

We have good demographics of what’s going on in the schools. and Lynne talked about demographics of aging population.

What about the town–demographics of people working in town:  that says to me more demand for police, fire, ambulance. If we look at that, perhaps we’re actually spending less.

Lynne:  The number of fire and police incidents are up. some reason for increase in fire is they’re part of the medical response so when you have more assisted living facilities, we have more activity. There are ways we can reduce that:  When the fire department goes out, they go with a truck. There are some changes in dispatch to reduce that.

If you look at land use department, the volume of activity is up there. There are more applications happening there in environmental affairs, a position we didn’t fill until we had to fill it, or else we would delay potential projects in town.

Some comments about what we’d cut:  we did talk about that. We have a vacancy in the police department. We talked about whether we should fill it. The easy option would be not to fill it. That would be the 2nd school resource officer–both the department and the schools value that and said no. If the community message is we don’t value, and they say to cut it, we’ll look at that.

The reason you’re hearing from the Library is because we asked them to make cuts.

The fire department: We went from 4-man shifts to 6-man shifts when the sizes of houses increased. We talked about that. Do you go to 5-man shifts? Then you go to the fire on Shadow Ln. and you see, you’re happy you live in a town with paid fire-fighters. Weston, Darien, they’re all volunteer. The decision to not replace a firefighter when they’re sick, on a day when you have a fire, you put those people in danger.

You don’t know when it’s going to happen, but do you want to take the risk of not having those people on staff when it does happen.

If we cut the number of plow drivers, your road won’t be plowed as quickly and roads won’t be as safe.

We don’t have a lot of depth in our staff, so that you can cut people. We’re a very very lean operation. If we cut staff, it has to be in fire, police or DPW because that’s where the heads are. And we’ll face those days with a major fire. We don’t want to do it, we can’t recommend it, our responsibility is the safety of the town.

Jeff Rutishauser:  One of the hardest jobs we have is the decisions to cut any budget. It’s a complex task to determine on the margin what we can do without. We’ve never done it that way, we have a long tradition of supporting fire and police.

Rich Berghaus:  I also attending the BoE meeting. I saw one slide that was appealing, where the demand was and wasn’t. What are we doing to recruit businesses to the town. There’s vacancy, there’s property. What are we doing to bring corporations? Businesses that can supplement that grand list and make these decisions easier?

Lynne:  We’re not providing tax incentives. But we’ve revitalized the economic development commission. They’re making various efforts. Myself and the town planner, we meet with people interested in investing in the town, different developers. I’ve had developers coming in, I meet with Marcus Partners, the largest real estate owner in town.

We aren’t doing outreach, it isn’t something I have the time to do. I think the biggest band for the book is to talk to developers. I hear the corporate business isn’t there. When CommonFund was talking about leaving, developers wanted to turn it to residential or medical. We’re putting our efforts into those alternative areas.