[OP-ED] First Selectwoman Gives FY2021 Wrap-Up: “Ending the Year Strong”

During FY2021, we faced many challenges. Community members, town and school leadership, and staff all worked collaboratively to meet those challenges. We are ending FY2021 strong with many exciting initiatives to look forward to in FY2022.

Favorable Financial Results

The Board of Selectmen operating expense budget is forecasted to be under budget by $800,000. Savings are the result of the move to the State Partnership Plan for employee medical benefits, employee vacancies, rebidding of business insurance, job consolidation, and $120,000 in infrastructure work that couldn’t be performed during COVID. The Board of Selectmen voted to allocate all of the savings to the Town’s building fund to allow for additional infrastructure improvements to municipal buildings and parks. 

The July 1, 2020 move to the State Partnership Plan resulted in substantial and greater savings than originally forecasted. We will again experience Plan savings in FY2022, as we were recently informed our annual premium will only increase by 1%, not the 3% budgeted. We continue to appreciate the cooperation of the four town unions in moving to the Plan.  

Last week, the Town received $2.7 million in American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds. We will receive an equal amount next June. The funds are being considered for the purchase of a required emergency radio system replacement for police, fire, EMS, and the Department of Public Works and reimbursement of costs incurred since March 3, 2021, for vaccination clinics and other COVID-19 related matters. A special town meeting vote will be held on the emergency radio system purchase. If approved, the use of ARPA funds will allow the taxpayers to avoid more than $250,000 per year in debt service over the next 10 years. 

Cell and Other Infrastructure

After years of resident and business frustration with cell service, there is finally vendor interest in expanding Wilton’s cell infrastructure. The Board of Selectmen will be requesting proposals for a monopole cell structure behind the Bus Barn on School Rd. Read more on the town website. The location will mean improved cell service, including to all three surrounding schools, playing fields, Wilton Center, and the surrounding Ridgefield Rd. and Danbury Rd. areas. The CT Siting Council, which is responsible for approving the installation of the monopole, will hold public hearings. We will keep the public informed. We hope a positive experience with this proposal will translate into more infrastructure investments. 

Road paving is ongoing and ahead of schedule. The second phase of the Wilton High School track replacement is proceeding smoothly. New projects for this summer include an improved parking lot, electricity and lighting at Schenck’s Island; a lightning detection system at the playing fields; and the replacement of Middlebrook tennis courts.

We continue to work with the Western CT Council of Governments (WestCOG) to seek broadband infrastructure solutions. 

Community Events

We are excited for the return of many traditional events this summer. Parks and Recreation’s free Sunday concerts return beginning July 11 through Aug. 1. There are a number of non-profit sponsored events in July including, Wilton Historical Society’s Ice Cream Social on July 1, Kiwanis Car Show in the Center on July 9, the Wilton Chamber of Commerce Sidewalk Sale on July 24, Woodcock Nature Center’s S’mores and More on July 25 and Courtyard Story Time at the Wilton Library on Tuesdays.

We are thrilled that Brooklyn-based Hideaway Circus chose Wilton as the Fairfield County location for their Stars Above tour. The show, which is for all ages, is performed outdoors, under the stars on a custom-built circular stage and aerial rig, and features professional circus performers and musicians. Performances dates are Aug. 27-29. You can read more and purchase tickets online. Look for additional details in upcoming press coverage

Steve Pierce and the Parks and Recreation staff are planning a Labor Day weekend event. Look for details at the July 20 Board of Selectmen meeting. 

Housing Diversification

Residents have long expressed a desire for more housing diversification, whether to downsize, or to provide entry-level housing for returning WHS grads, housing for older parents/grandparents as they seek to move closer to family, or affordable housing for individuals working in Wilton. Large and sustained vacancy rates in Wilton and Fairfield County (first quarter overall 31% and 30%, respectively, per Cushman & Wakefield) and declines in commercial building values have resulted in developers seeking to repurpose office and commercial buildings into multi-family residential.  

The fact that the single-family housing market has picked up doesn’t mean the need for housing diversification has disappeared. If anything, it has made mid-priced housing even more difficult to find. 

The Planning and Zoning Commission has been very thoughtful with the three conversions approved over the last few years, 300 Danbury Rd., 200 Danbury Rd. and 2 Hollyhock. A number of project ideas are currently being discussed with the Commission. Not all discussions will lead to an application. Not all approved applications will lead to a shovel in the ground. Sadly, we are seeing that with 300 Danbury Rd., the most heavily scrutinized and most widely supported proposal. 

As was with 300 Danbury Rd., it is important to share your comments, even your positive comments, with the Planning and Zoning Commission. You can email the Commission.

As always, if you have any questions, please contact me via email.

Have a wonderful summer.

Lynne Vanderslice
First Selectwoman