Whoo-boy! We asked and you responded, candidly, openly and with insight.

Our recent reader survey asked people to tell us, “How are things going in Wilton?” We heard back from 193 readers, and we’ve published the results and data today, including whether people think things are better, worse or the same since town leadership changed in December. You can see how GMW readers responded and find those numbers and percentages by clicking here.

But for some of the survey questions, we asked readers to elaborate with comments. We asked about what people’s concerns are for Wilton, and if they had any suggestions to pass along to Town Hall. We’ve compiled some of the most interesting and representative below, and we’ll be sending the complete set of answers to the first selectman.

Survey Respondents’ Comments

Q:  Do you like how Wilton’s current leaders are governing? If yes, why?

There was a solid majority of respondents who say they are pleased with Wilton’s leaders—120 (62-percent) answered, ‘Yes,’ to the question of whether they liked how Wilton’s current leaders are governing. We asked them to elaborate why. Of 102 open ended answers, more than 60 cited transparency, better communication, approachability, and inclusiveness. They said the selectmen are listening more, open to discussion, actively seeking public input and holding themselves more accountable. Far and away, this was the biggest positive people mentioned. Here were some typical comments along this theme:

  • Much more open, friendly and transparent environment. [First selectman] Lynne Vanderslice seems fair, reasonable and open-minded.
  • Reaching out to the community, feeling the temperature, asking and listening.
  • Transparency and direct communication—Lynne takes accountability seriously
  • Lynne is open to and seeking input from residents and seems ready to accomplish things and affect change.
  • They realize we have a small group who challenge everything financial so they are stressing transparency to ward off the mess we had last cycle.
  • More community involvement encouraged and opportunities to be heard are provided.
  • They seem very open to having more people participate in government, especially through various town boards and committees.

Another prevalent theme was that Wilton’s leaders are seen to be much more fiscally conservative and careful. People mentioned that town officials are “aware of spending,” and that they’re “trying to save money.” Respondents gave props for a focus on expenses and taxes, with one reader noting, “They actually seem to realize that there is a limit on the amount of money you can expect taxpayers to provide, but insufficient action has been taken to reduce the tax burden.” 

A small subset of comments pointed to the rising school budgets and noted that the current BoS is likely to push for tighter budgets all around, like this commenter:  “Lynne Vanderslice and [selectman] Mike Kaelin are open, trust worthy, and use common sense. They are not in the pockets of the usual ‘anything-for-the-schools’ lobby.”

Readers applauded a renewed focus on economic development, town growth, and development of town amenities (like the Schenck’s Island landscaping and renovations to Comstock Community Center and Miller-Driscoll), and were happy with what they see as town leaders being more “open to change.” Some interesting comments in those veins include:

  • Keying in on Planning & Zoning and Economic Development Commission to make changes. Much more than flowers and a few signs.
  • Reducing development inhibitors
  • There seems to be a greater velocity of change and a better attention to growth. I believe there is also a renewed look at removing barriers for business growth.
  • Thoughtful, careful leadership and good long-range thought and planning.

Some also commented that they like what they perceive to be a change in approach to “business as usual.”

  • More emphasis on resolution before lawsuits.
  • They are trying to get the town out of the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset.
  • Less arrogant, appear somewhat more in touch with constituents.
  • I think there is an open mindedness to doing things differently that was lacking before.

Q:  Do you have concerns about how Wilton’s leaders are governing?

Among the concerns readers have are ones town leaders hear annually at town meetings and budget time:  real estate prices are stagnant and low, taxes are too high, and the town spends excessively. A few respondents say they’re worried about the difficulty seniors will have without tax relief to continue living in town.

“Older citizens must be considered or else the Town will only attract young families, thus increasing the burdens on the school system.”

Still others worried about how to attract and retain younger families:

  • Economic development needs to focus on housing for young people more.
  • Concern that they will not focus sufficiently on lowering the tax burden which is the major impediment to new families moving in and retaining families.”

Many expressed concerns about empty storefronts, about what the town was doing to attract new businesses—and help struggling ones—and broadening the tax base. Others wanted to see more improvements to town amenities.

Others urged for a more macro view, urging Wilton’s leaders to focus on an overall plan and to find their “vision” for Wilton’s growth:

  • We do not have a P&Z that has a plan for business development.
  • There are so many concerns for the town so how issues are prioritized and addressed are of concern. With trying to attract development how is it balanced with taking care of existing property and open spaces. Also consistency in making an overall plan for places like Schenck’s Island and other open spaces so usage and conservation can coexist and create a place where the community can come together and enjoy a central place.
  • The First Selectman in a numbers person, she needs to stop being lost in numbers and start governing for growth. If we stay in our 1950’5 idealistic farm community mentality we are in for hard times ahead.

That overall strategy, said some, needs special attention to infrastructure, most notably Wilton’s roads:

  • Terrible roads (we’ve lived on our street for 22 years, it has never been repaved), and what seems to be poor allocation of resources and manpower on unimportant projects.

Some people worried that the new leadership would fall into habits of the past:

  • I’m bothered that some seek to maintain control by the town [political] committees rather than opening the doors to the large number of unaffiliated voters.
  • It’s time to be open to new ideas, new generations.
  • Reappointing same people to boards and commissions who have not served the town well.

There were respondents who complained about school spending and the Board of Education

  • BOE not being responsive to enrollment decline.
  • Wilton Schools are declining. BOE does whatever they want. Huge changes going on with no communication to parents. I wish BOS worked more closely with BOE. BOE is unchecked.
  • Focus on reducing the BOE budget rather than focus on building the tax base; Increasing polarization of the town around the issues of BOE budget and taxes

…while others thought the Board of Education and school budgets have been hurt by “detractors” and should be supported instead:

  • It seems the issues around the MD renovation will not go away despite being under budget and ahead of schedule. I would like to see less pandering to the project’s detractors.
  • The school budget should be increased
  • Catering too much to the vocal minority. While I appreciate them being heard, it appeared during the budget cycle that they were seen by some on the BOS and Board of Finance as the majority voice. Glad the vote proved them wrong

That divisiveness on budgets as well as elsewhere is one final concern some respondents had. They fear how such public discord can damage the town’s reputation and hurt us as a community.

  • Our town is deeply divided right now. If you are part of any of the online Wilton specific pages, it feels like the Tale of Two Cities. There is very much an “us versus them” mentality and it’s damaging to our town to exist in this way. I voted in favor of the school budget as I have young children in the system and feel strongly that I need to support it, but admittedly I’m incredibly concerned about the overall budget in our town. I feel like there are a lot of concerned citizens on both sides of the argument and no plans to try to unite the town.
  • There needs to be more community outreach and leadership. We are very much a fractured community.
  • I would also like to see us do a better job of collaborating to solve problems instead of compromising or worse still, fighting for one side of an argument.

Q:  Do you have suggestions for town leaders?

Ask and ye shall receive. We could have won big by betting that the topic that would get the most suggestions would be “lowering taxes.” More than one-third of all the suggestions had to do with reducing reduce spending, lowering taxes and the like.

But there were other ideas that were more specific and creative that we thought were notable. Some are concrete and have possibility, while others may be more pie-in-the-sky—but in the spirit of brainstorming we included almost all of them:

  • Explore utilizing Schenck’s Island as a site for winter hockey, town bonfires on Friday and Saturdays in winter and a bandshell gathering site for concerts on a lawn during the summer.
  • Change laws so restaurants and bars can stay open late. Allow live music.
  • Address quality of life issues as part of the long term plan.  Bike lanes, beach access, town pool
  • Create committees based on “young families,” “retirees,” etc., to get a feel for what the town really wants.  There needs to be more outreach. Wilton is falling behind the times and it’s not “charming” anymore.
  • More community events. Examples:  movies and concerts in Merwin or Allen’s Meadows
  • [Hold] a meeting where all land groups from development to conservation can come together to discuss an overall plan for the town so a discussion can occur with all interested and concerned parties present
  • Have a “community day” festival that invites people to enjoy local businesses. Welcome businesses that aren’t Italian or pizza related. We need more diversity.
  • Cut IT spending, freeze salaries for 5 years
  • Try to improve the town center by making it more of a walking town. Better businesses would help but recognize that is not necessarily in [town hall’s] control. Need more athletic fields WITH LIGHTS to compete with surrounding towns.
  • Hammer the population with notices of activity so they cannot come forward at the last minute and say, “We did not hear,” or “We were not informed.”
  • Signage!! Not just the much-needed signs directing drivers to Wilton Center, but also traffic safety-related signs. For instance, drivers cannot see the “dead end” sign on my street (Horseshoe Road), so they turn onto the street and then when they realize their error, they race back toward River Road. Better signage, a lower speed limit, and speed bumps could help.

Finally, some of the suggestions seem more philosophical in nature:

  • Take the words “we’ve always done it this way” out of your vocabulary.
  • Please consider that every argument is not “binary”.  I will send the first selectman an email and identify myself as someone who might be able to help our city realize its potential.  I will submit my name not as a Republican or Democrat, but as a resident and citizen.
  • Don’t let a small but vocal minority determine your policies
  • We need to come together to help Wilton move forward!