At Monday evening’s Board of Selectmen meeting, town leaders reviewed the direction given last week by the Board of Finance that they reduce the proposed FY ’15 budget from $32,115,267–a 3.5 percent increase over last year–to a 2.65 percent increase. The BoF had left the decision of where cuts would be made to the selectmen, but had directed that the total reductions would need to be $348,500.
Calling the reductions “not easy” and “higher than what we expected,” Brennan said at last night’s meeting that he and Sandy Dennies, Wilton’s CFO, worked closely with all the town departments over the last few days to find places to trim next year’s budget.
Brennan made a point to mention that, “The Board of Finance members are volunteers, and they’re well-intentioned. They have very difficult jobs, and we’re just trying to balance keeping our taxes low–not just for seniors; nobody likes to pay them, although we all pay them. What it comes down to is the expression, ‘A perfect budget is a budget where everybody is unhappy.’ We got that–nobody is happy. The school isn’t happy with what they got, the BoF doesn’t take any joy in cutting us back.”
However, he did express his concern with the consequences of such cuts.
“We have to cope. My biggest concern is that we’re getting on the edge. We’ve been very successful for eight years–we’ve been able to meet our budgets, we’ve been able to return money to the town general fund. We have a chance this year of that not happening, we’re that close on our budgets. Our departments need their equipment to operate. We tried to focus on that this year, we’ll keep our fingers crossed and get through the operating expenditures budget, and watch our expenses very closely, and I’m confident we’ll be able to do it again, but it’s going to be close.”
Brennan expressed his worry that town departments have deferred operating and capital expenses over the last few budget years, and that any cuts would be significantly detrimental.
“The departments need to operate equipment and vehicles to provide services to the community. The past two years, operating capital budgets were cut and equipment deferred to the next year. We simply cannot keep doing that year after year. It’s starting to have the potential to impact our ability to respond to and provide services. I must emphasize our operating expenditures budget this year is on the edge, and there is a realistic chance we may exceed some of the budget and we may have to apply for charter authority assistance.”
Two other selectmen–Richard Dubow and Hal Clark–backed up Brennan, agreeing that the cuts to operating expenditures made them uneasy. “I just want to say that 1.17 percent increase in operating expenditures is– ”
“–inadequate,” Clark interjected.
“It is,” Dubow agreed. “It’s a budget that is primarily manpower and wages.”
Brennan noted that Wilton’s mil rate at 2 percent reflects tax increases “on the low side,” compared to other towns.
Potential budget reductions
Brennan said that he and Dennies sought to spread the cuts “as equitably as possible” across all town departments, saying “everybody is sharing in the pain.” He specifically noted, “In human resources, we reduced that $30,000. Tax collector we were able to arrange for a little less part-time help. In the employee insurance, we felt we could lower workman’s comp.”
Another area Brennan mentioned–“sand and salt, we cut the $50,000 out. Tom [Thurkettle, public works director] said he could manage. Again, if we have another horrendous winter like we had, then we’ll have to order and we’ll end up being over our budget. But he felt he could handle it with what we had–the $50,000 was really to recover for where we started this winter.”
The Wilton Library will also see its budget reduced. Because the Wilton Library “is a major part of our budget,” according to Brennan, and everybody is going to share and every major department was going to contribute to the cuts, the library would see a reduction of $10,000 in its budget.
Brennan also said that the Wilton Police Department will keep one police car, which they’d planned to replace as usual after four year, for an extra fifth year, saving the town more than $30,000; they will also postpone the police station space study by one year, although Brennan noted that the town “will have to do that eventually, so it’s just been slid one year.”
While the town has completely eliminated replacement of a dive team trailer, they are looking for alternate funding to replace a public works pickup truck. Dennies said those funds will likely come from reimbursed funds from FEMA following applications after last year’s storms.
Clark suggested that next year the town should track repair costs associated with extending the life of equipment that would otherwise have been replaced if not for the cuts. Brennan called it a “good idea.”
Should the town go over budget next year, Brennan warned, “That’s what we have charter authority for.”
Once the budget is set, the finance board’s recommended budget will be put in front of voters on May 6 at the annual town meeting and when voting continues on Saturday, May 10.