At last week’s (March 2) budget workshop, the Board of Selectmen approved their proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2017. They will now send that budget proposal to the Board of Finance to start the next phase of setting the town’s budget for next year.

The budget the selectmen approved breaks down as follows:

$31,018,191    town’s operating budget
$  1,396,696   operating capital budget

$32,414,887  TOTAL

The BoS had been asked by the BoF to put together a budget that reflected 0% growth from FY ’16. This proposed budget actually comes in $17,315 below last year’s approved budget.

According to first selectman Lynne Vanderslice, when the BoS meets with the BoF on March 16 to review the proposed selectmen’s budget, the members of the BoF would like to focus on police department staffing and emergency response protocols.

“The most common question I got when I was running for office as far as staffing was, ‘Why do we have x-number of police officers?’”

Once the BoF reviews the budget, they will present it to the town at a budget hearing on March 29 in Middlebrook Auditorium at 7:30 p.m.. They are asking for feedback from the town in person that night or via email.

Economic Development Commission Budget

During the workshop Vanderslice also opened up the topic of the budget presented by the Economic Development Commission (EDC), which had been presented by EDC co-chair Vivian Lee-Shiue on Feb. 17, 2016. As part of their proposal, they outlined budget requests for working with branding and planning consultants and looking at ways to execute recommendations made about branding the town and creating an image.

Vanderslice said since that presentation, she has had further conversations with the EDC members as well as with town planner Bob Nerney, and now feels that having the EDC move forward with such steps would be premature, as would funding the initiatives.

“The commission is really a work in progress. The recent focus is different than what the focus was when the committee was formed, what the focus of the strategic plan is. There are some people on the committee trying to move the committee in a different direction. The direction they’re trying to move it in may not be in the purview of the Economic Development Commission but really it’s in the purview of a different commission and that they are overstepping.”

She pointed out that a grant application was one item in particular that she felt was outside the EDC purview. “They were really talking about a planning person, not an economic development planning person. That’s certainly not within their purview. I can’t justify providing funding for things that I don’t think are going to get done or are appropriate.”

Vanderslice suggested that the commission will soon have a different membership makeup, as prospective new members are being interviewed for open EDC spots, and that it might make sense for the EDC members to do a little more research about what surrounding communities have done.

“It makes sense for the commissioners to spend some time working with Bob Nerney, visit some other towns, take a look at what other towns do as economic commissions, meet with some other economic development directors. It will be helpful and they may get a better understanding of how things should be done.”

She also said she agreed with fellow BoS member Dick Dubow that this commission can be critical in driving economic development in Wilton, and that’s why she’s being careful with how the commission is funded.

“I think we have to make sure that the resources are being put in the right direction. Some of the things, they don’t make sense,” Vanderslice said, recommending that the EDC budget be kept flat from FY ’16 to FY ’17, and adding that the commission could always come back to request additional funds after doing more evaluation and research.

The current budget that the EDC is operating with is $35,000. Vanderslice noted the commission doesn’t spend a great deal of money. “Right now they still have $25,000 that they haven’t spent for this year.”

Legal Expenses

The FY ’17 budget request for litigation is $100,000. Vanderslice told the BoS that she had reviewed all the legal costs of the past two years, given the significant jump legal expenses took between the current and prior years for litigation. The actual amount spent in on litigation 2014 was $36,896.85; in 2015, it jumped to $174,472.03; the estimated amount for the current year is projected at $200,000.

“I looked for items which I’d call extraordinary items, which is certainly Sensible Wilton,” she said, noting that there is also a current tax appeal lawsuit in which the town is involved, as well as significant spending on FOIA matters related to the Miller-Driscoll building project. “It’s just shocking how one of those can build up.”

She said she’s less concerned about legal costs for the coming year, especially when considering what costs would be without those ‘extraordinary items,’ and that she is focused on trying to prevent the town from getting into situations that escalate into legal territory.

“I feel very comfortable, I’m not concerned. I’m focused on trying to manage those legal costs. I think that there’s a general awareness after all we’ve spent.”

One example she pointed to was the recent decision to move the Miller-Driscoll hazardous material and asbestos removal work from April vacation to the summer. She alluded that by moving the hazmat work to a later time, rather then scheduling it when children would return to school so soon after helped head off any risk of a potential lawsuit.

“It was something they could do and still make the schedule. It wasn’t 100% driven by a potential lawsuit, but it was also a legal avoidance measure. I think as long as we’re always doing that in our thinking, being more aware of it, I think we can stay away from the situation we’ve been in the last two years,” Vanderslice said.