After spending the last few weeks reviewing the numbers submitted by all the town departments and partners, the Board of Selectmen approved its preliminary budget proposal for the 2019-2020 fiscal year during Monday evening’s BOS meeting. First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice will now present that proposed budget to the Board of Finance for its review.
The selectmen are requesting a budget increase of 0.92%, representing an overall increase of $305,309 year-to-year. The total budget request of $33,811,304 is comprised of a $32,801,407 operating budget and $1,009,897 in operating capital.
Despite coming in with a budget that’s not only more than a full percentage point below the BOF’s suggested 2.0% guideline, but also less than a 1.0% increase, Vanderslice is concerned with what’s essentially a three-part perfect storm awaiting Wilton in the coming weeks.
Most notably, there’s how the state’s financial disarray might impact Wilton’s budget. In an editorial published last month, Wilton’s first selectwoman wrote about potential moves from Hartford that could increase costs passed on to taxpayers. Included among them are a new state automotive property tax and requiring towns to make contributions to the state teacher pension system.
Any possible changes at the state level will compound with whatever additional increases taxpayers may see as a result of the 2017 revaluation and grand list adjustment. The assessor has just finished up calculations for Wilton’s grand list–and while the decline in grand list value was not as sharp a drop as officials had feared it might be, the decrease will still bring surprises for a majority of Wilton residents. [See our separate story published today on Town Hall’s grand list announcement].
The third element of the perfect storm bearing down on budget season, however, will be any potential surprises awaiting residents once they file tax returns this year. Taxpayers may face unanticipated disappointments thanks to changes in the tax laws, with lower refunds or unexpectedly–owed taxes as distinct possibilities.
“We tried to signal that last year, but there’s the potential of a lot of fallout this year, and we’ll see–the BOF will be approving a budget with a great deal of uncertainty,” Vanderslice said.
As part of her own calculations, Vanderslice has factored in Gov. Ned Lamont’s teacher pension pushdown proposal, which includes a request of around $460,000 from Wilton. But there’s another data point she is also surprised to be factoring in–Lamont’s proposed state budget did not eliminate the annual Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) grant by which the state provides funding to municipalities. Town and school officials originally thought that ECS funding would be disappearing completely from the revenue side of the budget worksheet.
However, the ECS amount Wilton would receive would equal almost exactly the same number as what it would pay the state for the teachers’ pension.
“That could be a wash this year. It’s going to be my recommendation to [BOF chair] Jeff [Rutishauser], don’t budget any of it,” Vanderslice said.
Vanderslice had planned on discussing the bonded capital projects budget with the BOS Monday night, but because the fire commission has not finalized the statement of requirements for its project to renovate Fire Station 2, she postponed finalizing the capital projects budget until the Board’s next meeting on March 18.
The Board of Selectmen will meet with the Board of Finance on March 12 to review the town’s proposed budget.