The GMW Guide to NEXT WEEK’S Town Meeting & Vote

This year’s Annual Town Meeting is Tuesday, May 2. It is during this meeting that Wilton residents will discuss and vote on adopting the budget for FY’18, as presented by the Board of Finance.

WHO VOTES?

If you’re reading this article, that means you’ve got some kind of interest in Wilton, so more likely than not you probably have the opportunity–and responsibility–of voting.

Here’s who is eligible to vote:

  • All registered Wilton voters are eligible to vote on the budget and any additional questions.
  • All resident or nonresident owners of real property—or a motor vehicle—valued at $1,000 or more on Wilton’s last completed Grand List.
  • In all cases, voters must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years old.

If you are eligible to vote, than by all means, you should show up at one of the two possible times you can vote. It’s your town, your taxes, your property values, your schools, your roads, … you get the point.

WHAT ARE WE VOTING ON?

The Annual Town Meeting will likely be moderated by Scott Lawrence, who moderated last year’s meeting for the first time. Lawrence is an attorney and a member of Wilton’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

Jeffrey Rutishauser, the chair of the Board of Finance, will present an overview of the town’s current finances; he will then explain the mil rate the BoF has set and the proposed tax rate increase–this year, a 1.58% increase. The total town budget being presented for Fiscal Year 2018 is $126,804,522. (For a detailed look at how the budget was set, read our prior coverage.) That breaks down as follows:

  • Board of Selectmen Operating budget:  $32,034,470
  • Board of Selectmen Capital:  $1,174,406
  • TOTAL Board of Selectmen:  $33,208,876 (3.0% increase over FY’17)
  • Board of Education budget:  $80,572,640 (0.0% increase over FY’17)
  • Debt Service:  $11,767,516
  • Charter Authority:  $1,255,490

First selectman Lynne Vanderslice will review the Board of Selectmen budget, and Bruce Likly, chair of the Board of Education, will cover the school budget.

The presentations will be followed by public comment. There will inevitably be discussion, disagreement and efforts to reduce the budget further at the meeting, as some residents feel strongly that the budget as proposed would mean too big of a tax increase. There will also be calls to protect the budget as it has been proposed by town officials.

It’s highly probable that a motion will be made from the floor to amend the proposed budget. According to the Town Charter, the only motion to change the budget can be one that reduces it. If someone wants to change the education budget, he or she can only make a motion to reduce the total BoE budget; if someone wants to amend the town’s budget, he or she can make motions to reduce specific line items of the BoS budget.

Any motion can be discussed and needs to be approved by a majority of residents present at the meeting. If residents want their voices heard and want to either make a motion to reduce a part of the budget or protect the budget as it stands right now, the best and most important thing to do is to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

The Town Meeting–all of the assembled, eligible voters–must eventually vote to approve a budget for the voters to consider on the ballot. That could take a while, and whether it’s the budget as proposed by the Board of Finance or not, there will be a budget for voters to consider at the end of the evening.

The main budget question on the ballot will read as follows, and voters will have only three options from which to choose:

Shall the budget and tax rate for the Fiscal Year 2018, as recommended by the Board of Finance, or as amended by the Town Meeting, be:

  • APPROVED
  • REJECTED BECAUSE IT IS TOO HIGH
  • REJECTED BECAUSE IT IS TOO LOW

But wait, there still more to talk about before the meeting ends and voting begins. At this point, conversation turns to the proposed bonded capital projects–the larger projects Wilton would need to borrow money for to be able to do. There are five proposed projects this year, and Vanderslice will run through each of those. Each of these projects will be a separate question on the ballot, for voters to either approve (vote yes) or not (vote no).

  • Year one of a five-year road restoration project (road paving):  $2,794,500
  • Planning, engineering, conceptual design and cost estimates for the Police Station renovation:  $1,266,000
  • Planning, design, and replacement for the Wilton High School tennis courts:  $450,000
  • Planning, engineering, analysis design and bid documents for the BOE district-wide roof replacements:  $100,000
  • Planning, Design and Installation for the Middlebrook School Elevator Replacement:  $100,000

There will also be two questions on the ballot for voters to consider. On these voters select either yes (approve) or no (not approve):

  • Should the Town discontinue the public road known as Old 2 Rod Highway
  • Should the town change an ordinance to extend the hours Wilton restaurants can sell liquor. Wilton’s current ordinance limits the hours restaurants can legally sell and serve alcohol. In March, the Economic Development Commission recommended that Wilton extend restaurant liquor sale hours to the same as those allowed in State ordinances. Voters will be asked if they approve of the proposed change.

SO WHEN DO WE VOTE?

  • Following the close of the meeting on Tuesday, May 2, eligible voters can begin voting that evening on whether or not they approve the budget as adopted. Polls won’t close until all eligible voters who are present and wish to vote cast their ballots.
  •  Adjourned voting will also take place on Saturday, May 6. You have an extra hour to vote on Saturday, May 6. In recent years, the polls on Saturday opened at 9 a.m.; this year, they’ll open at 8 a.m., and stay open until 6 p.m.. So if you plan to be out and about on a busy Saturday–on the sports sidelines, running errands, entertaining visiting guests, whatever the reason–you now have an extra hour to make sure getting to the polls and voting fits into your day.

WHERE DO WE VOTE?

Tuesday’s meeting and vote, as well as Saturday’s adjourned vote, all take place at the Clune Center, at Wilton High School, 395 Danbury Rd..

Absentee ballots will be available in the town clerk’s office, 238 Danbury Rd., between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. from Wednesday, May 3 through Friday, May 5. Completed absentee ballots must be returned to the town clerk’s office no later than 4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 5.

WHY IS IT CRUCIAL TO VOTE AT ALL?

If fewer than 15% of eligible voters turn out to vote, the budget will automatically pass—no matter the outcome of the actual vote. That’s what happened in 2016 when the majority of those who voted cast a “No, Too High” vote, but the budget passed as originally proposed because only 11.5% of eligible voters actually voted. Last year there was an 18% voter turnout, but a lot of that was likely driven by a bonding question about a turf field–and a big push from sports booster groups to get voters in support to the polls.

That doesn’t mean it’s okay to stay away from the polls because “not voting is like saying you think the budget should pass.”  It’s never a guarantee.

If the budget is rejected as either too high or too low, the budget then returns to the Board of Finance which will consult with the members of the BoS and BoE and come back to the Town Meeting with a revised budget. The only options then will be ‘approve’ or ‘reduce’; it cannot be rejected outright.