The Board of Finance (BOF) assembled via Zoom last night, Tuesday, Dec. 14, in what was the board’s first meeting since the November municipal election.
Newly elected Matthew Raimondi and Richard Santosky and re-elected Sandy Arkell and Stewart Koenigsberg joined fellow board members Michael Kaelin and Chris Stroup.
Election of Officers
The first order of business was the selection of a new chairperson. (Former BOF chair Jeffrey Rutishauser completed his term and is no longer serving on the board.)
Stroup nominated Kaelin, who has been serving as the board’s vice-chair. Raimondi nominated Koenigsberg, who respectfully declined the nomination.
The board members then voted unanimously in support of Kaelin. [Editor’s Note: GMW reported the vote as “unanimous” based on information relayed to us by Kaelin, then vice-chair of the board, who led the meeting and recorded the tally. Subsequent minutes of the Dec. 14 meeting recorded the vote for Kaelin as “in acclamation” and may not have been unanimous, though there were no votes in opposition and no abstentions seen or heard in the Zoom video recording of the meeting.]
Koenigsberg was unanimously approved for the vice-chair position.
Raimondi volunteered for the role of clerk and was also unanimously approved.
Kaelin Takes a Collaborative Approach
Kaelin indicated he had sent the board members the portion of the Town Charter outlining the board’s responsibilities for the town budget.
“The execution of the responsibilities of the Board of Finance, in my view, is the responsibility of every single member of the Board of Finance,” Kaelin said.
“Each one of us on this Board of Finance has an equal voice and an equal vote,” Kaelin continued. “We cannot do anything other than by a vote of the majority of the members of the board.”
Kaelin’s respect for his fellow board members was evident. He said that in his experience on the BOF as well as in other roles within the Town, he had not seen any six individuals more qualified for the BOF than those now serving.
He also noted that all of the members had been elected in competitive elections.
“It’s something each of you should be congratulated for. It also imposes upon you an added responsibility,” Kaelin said. “Each one of us answers to the voters in this town and it’s our responsibility to communicate with them, and to do the job that they’ve put us on the board to do.”
He added, “Ultimately, our responsibility is to recommend to the Town Meeting in May the budget for the town.”
Kaelin also assured board members he would not set the BOF’s agenda alone.
“I don’t have any greater voice in this than any of you do,” he said. “If any of you want to have any item on the agenda for any meeting … as long as it’s within the scope of our responsibilities, then I’m going to add it to the agenda.”
“We’ve got six terrific people on this Board of Finance,” Kaelin reiterated. “My job as chairman is really to empower each one of you so that each one of us can do the best job we can for the Town.”
Quad Board Meeting Review
Members of the BOF briefly discussed their overall thoughts about last week’s quad-board meeting, which included four of Wilton’s governing boards — the Board of Selectmen (BOS), Board of Education (BOE), Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) and the BOF — as a precursor to budget planning for FY2023.
In that meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice shared a possible budget scenario with a 4.19% mill rate increase. Kaelin made the observation that “a 4% tax increase is a really, really tough sell for the residents of this town.”
Raimondi said he agreed with Kaelin and went as far as to call that proposition “a non-starter.”
“The magnitude of the increase surprised me, as it surprised many of our constituents who reached out to me and indicated as such,” Raimondi said. “Based on what I saw on the campaign trail, I think people are going to have a tough time selling that. I think it’s incumbent on us as a Board of Finance … to make sure we get that [4.19%] down. I think that’s a non-starter.”
Stroup had a different perspective and urged the board to be open-minded.
“I’d like to hold off judgment until we have an opportunity to receive the information from the Board of Selectman and the Board of Ed,” Stroup began. “And I would suggest as we conduct our deliberations about spending requests from those two boards that we consider the spending over the last several years.”
Stroup believes a historical view of Wilton’s spending, with low spending increases over time, would make a better context in which to consider the 4% scenario.
“Perhaps some might view a 4%, one-year increase as a nonstarter or untenable, but I’m not so sure I take that view,” Stroup continued. “I would like us to think about spending over time … and [with an] updated or better forecast over the next several years, then maybe we can take a look at spending over a longer period of time.”
Building on Stroup’s point, Koenigsberg used declining school enrollment as an example of a cumulative change that should be examined by the BOF from a broader perspective than year-by-year changes.
Kaelin summarized what was ahead for the group.
“Just to get us thinking about this, there are really two parts to the job that we have to do. One is evaluating the needs. The other is, what can we afford as a town? There may be an incredible justification for some of these expenses, but part of our job is to make a judgment on [whether] the taxpayers can afford it. That’s what we have ahead of us, up until we make our recommendation to the Town Meeting in May.”
Public Feedback Sought
As part of its deliberations and ultimate judgments on budget decisions, the board members expressed a desire for a way to measure public sentiment and obtain more input during the budget process.
Raimondi offered to investigate survey methodologies that could be a mechanism for the public to give the BOF regular feedback and encourage more people to express their views.