The Board of Selectmen began discussions on their budget for FY’18 during the most recent (Monday, Jan. 23) BOS meeting.

While they were given guidance from the Board of Finance to bring a budget that’s 1.25-percent lower than FY’17 year, that may be difficult:  the numbers the selectmen were looking at Monday evening were budget requests from all the town departments, totaling $33,137,806–a number that’s 2.9-percent higher ($935,926) than the current year’s budget.

As first selectman Lynne Vanderslice explained the budget figures, she called the situation faced by the town a “perfect storm.”

“Across the board our underlying costs are increasing, whether it’s electricity, fuel to healthcare claims, all of that is up. And of course state support is decreasing, so you’ll hear about new costs that we’re assuming rather than having the residents who are in most need go without.”

Vanderslice also pointed out that increase in budget figures followed two years of budgets that told different stories than the one proposed for FY’18.

“In 2016 we finished the year approximately $1 million less than what the operating budget was. Almost $700,000 of that was labor savings primarily due to vacancies–and the existing employees were stretched to achieve those savings. I knew we were coming into a difficult budget year and I thought it was important to try to bank some of that money–that’s what we did, I hope it’s viewed that way. The 2017 budget is $213,000 less than the 2016 budget and we’re forecasting that we’re going to end up just about flat on that budget,” she said.

She listed five main factors driving the proposed budget–increases in wages ($432,000), group insurance costs ($212,000), pension and OPED contributions ($104,000), building repairs ($90,000), and an expected tax bill from the Georgetown Fire District ($60,000).

The budget was developed with several goals in mind:

  • Goals unique to FY’18
    • Funding for Phase 1 of update of Plan of Conservation and Development (facilitates economic development, pushed up from 2019 because of increased interest in development around Rte. 7)
    • Funding to perform deferred maintenance on town buildings, facilities and roads
    • Funding to complete property revaluation required by state law
    • Funding to meet needs of an increasingly aging population
  • Ongoing Goals
    • Reduce and slow cost growth through efficiencies and labor negotiations
    • Collaboration with the Board of Education to reduce overall Town budget
    • Maintain the safety of the Town and residents
    • Provide services residents have come to expect

Vanderslice noted that even in buildings that are being eyed for larger renovation projects further down the road, there’s need to attend to smaller, more urgent needs.

“We have a number of issues, things we have to do. We have roof issues–in a strong rainstorm, we had ceiling tiles fall down onto the desk of one of the employees in the town clerk’s office; fortunately she had just left her desk. Same thing with tiles at the entrance of the annex, tiles that fell down where you go in. We have to do the work and it’s an area that often gets cut but you’ll see the increase there,” she explained.

Dick Dubow suggested that because ‘deferred’ maintenance happens when it’s not an ‘ongoing’ goal to do it, he thought that maintenance of town infrastructure should be addressed as an ongoing issue. “So we don’t have to have it as a crisis management situation. Vanderslice agreed.

Reducing Costs, Slowing Down Growth of Costs

Over the next few weeks, Vanderslice and the other selectmen will hear presentations from all of the department heads about their particular needs and risks, as well as what initiatives they took to reduce costs and slow the growth of costs as much as possible, and to meet budget goals.

Vanderslice said that the budget reflects specific initiatives to try to slow down the growth of costs and/or reduce them.

  • Anticipated outcomes of collective bargaining on union contracts being currently negotiated–teamsters, firefighters and AFSCME (town hall employees)
  • Elimination of one secretary position in Vanderslice’s office–something she said was helped by her style of working (answering her own emails, etc.). That employee was able to fill a vacancy at the fire department.
  • Elimination of payroll supervisor in the Finance Department
  • Changes in benefits for new non-union hires
  • Avoidance of an increase in the Transfer Station subsidy

According to Vanderslice, there was one cost savings not reflected in the BOS budget–with Chris Burney, the town’s facility director, now assuming the responsibilities of the Board of Education facility director, the town’s total budget would see savings reflected in the BoE budget.

Selectman’s Initiatives

One initiative Vanderslice has incorporated into the budget is a new part-time position for a special projects and compliance employee. “What I call a higher-level person, someone with a different set of skills. The compliance work will help reduce our legal fees and there are about 10-12 things that need to be looked into…a backlog of projects that would be meaningful,” she said, noting that she anticipates needing to spend more time in Hartford with the economic issues at the state level that impact the town. Vanderslice pointed out that, unlike Wilton, several surrounding towns have town administrators, leaving their first selectmen more available to work for state support. “The other towns have a lot more time to get involved in these issues and advocate for their town.”

This position is expected to pay for itself, she added, and that when combined with the eliminated secretary position, reflects a $25,000 decrease in the budget.

In the areas of Human Resources and Employee Benefits, town clerk and registrars of voters, there wasn’t much change in budgets between FY’17 and FY’18, according to Sarah Taffel, Wilton’s director of human resources. She said the HR budget is essentially flat, outside of contracted increases in wages, benefits and pension.

For the Finance Department, town CFO Anne Kelly-Lenz told the BOS that her FY’18 budget reflects savings of $47,000 from the elimination of a payroll supervisor position and an additional $18,900 of service fees.

Information Services director John Savarese has built in savings by not increasing staff despite what he and Vanderslice noted were increasing demands on the department–a situation that carries risk because he has no back-up.

Upcoming Budget Dates

All meetings are in Town Hall Room B, unless otherwise indicated

  • Saturday, Feb. 4 at 9 a.m.:  department budget reviews for Fire Department, Land Use, Parks & Recreation, Police and Public Works
  • Monday, Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m. (regular BOS meeting):  budget review for non-town departments
  • Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. (regular BOS meeting):  budget review for non-town departments
  • Monday, Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m.:  continued budget review
  • Monday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m.:  BOS/BOF budget review
  • Monday, March 20 at 7:30 p.m.:  BOF Public Hearing on BOE budget at Middlebrook School Auditorium
  • Monday, March 27 at 7:30 p.m.:  BOF Public Hearing on BOS budget at Middlebrook School Auditorium
  • Wednesday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m.:  BOF Special Meeting on Mill Rate
  • Thursday, March 30 & Friday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m.:  BOF Special Meeting on Mill Rate–if continued discussion is needed
  • Tuesday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m.:  Annual Town Meeting and voting at Clune Center Auditorium
  • Saturday, May 6:  Adjourned Vote at Clune Center Auditorium