During last night’s special meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Wilton got its first glimpse of what First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice is proposing for the Town portion of the budget–and then it got a second glimpse…and then a third.
Vanderslice proposed three possible budget scenarios, presenting increases of 0.47%, 1.37% or 2.26%, with a difference of $600,000 between the lowest and highest extremes.
It’s not a case of, “Pick one, any one,” and it’s not a simple choice. The reason for the uncertainty comes with an intent to try and be as cost-conscious as possible, while also trying to incorporate long-deferred–and much needed–maintenance of town buildings.
- 0.47% increase ($33,659,637)
The budget with the 0.47% increase includes a cost savings and cost avoidance totaling $600,000, based on the town’s hopeful move to the state medical plan. However, the town doesn’t yet have numbers from the state to plug in, so Vanderslice could only propose a budget based on what is known at this point.
- 1.37% increase ($33,959,637)
The budget with the 1.37% increase is also based off of the hopeful savings to be realized by going on the state’s health plan. This option includes a recommendation from Vanderslice to apply $300,000 of the anticipated savings toward town building maintenance and improvements.
- 2.26% increase ($34,259,637)
The budget with the 2.26% increase reflects the possibility of the town not moving to the State Partnership Plan. It does not include funding for building maintenance.
Even if the state health plan numbers are favorable, there are other variables as well, including that any changes are subject to approval from the unions representing town employees. Those discussions are slated to begin next Tuesday, Feb. 18.
What’s included in the budget
The heads of several departments ran through their portions of the budget for the selectmen, and there were several the notable requests and initiatives included in the FY’2021 budget.
- Areas where Vanderslice was able to find savings or avoid increases, including repurposing police and DPW vehicles for other departments (Land Use and Town Hall), as well as energy savings through renewable sources.
- Incremental funding for initiatives planned for improvements in Wilton Center and surrounding areas. That includes funding for summer help and outside professional services to support and maintain areas around the Norwalk River in the Center, including maintenance of the flower baskets. This effort would free up Parks & Grounds to maximize time spent elsewhere.
- Funding to expand digital record keeping, which would help departments like DPW and Environmental Affairs increase their efficiency in the field and reduce required storage space.
- A Real Estate Fund to capture rental income. This would be used for repair and maintenance expenses for town-owned rental properties, in an effort to ensure buildings are properly maintained.
There were also changes to the expense side of the budget:
- Increase in Wages
- Additional decrease in benefits primarily due to employee selections
- Increase in transfer station subsidy
- Increase in Wilton Library Association grant request
- Increase in estimated Georgetown Fire District tax bill
Vanderslice’s Maintenance Recommendation
If the move to the state health plan–and resulting savings–materializes, Vanderslice is recommending that the BOS apply part or all of those savings toward municipal infrastructure improvement. Among the needs:
- Address Annex overcrowding and Town Hall’s inefficient use of space
- Replace Town Hall windows
- Install insulation in sections of Town Hall where it is lacking
- Address poor condition of the DPW sleeping quarters
Other Important Details
The budget also reflects other important areas worth noting:
- Wage increases: Contracted Police increases are scheduled for the next three years, including 2% for FY2022 and FY2023; there are 2% non-contracted increases for Fire, Highway and ASFME employees as well as non-union employees in FY2021, FY2022 and FY2023
- Medical benefit costs: budgeted with FY2020 self-insured rates and changes in employee selections within individual departments; budgeted with a cost reduction due to State Partnership Plan within the ”Reserve”
- Estimated increase in Transfer Station Subsidy. It does not reflect the potential impact of the upcoming Transfer Station study
- When comparing prior year actual results, it is important to note the following:
- Operating Capital can be carried forward for up to 5 years, so that monies are not always spent in the initial year’s budget
- During fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019, the BOS actual results were under budget by approximately $3 million. A sizable portion of that savings is due to temporary cost avoidance from vacant positions. Vacant positions are often replaced at a lower salary. The FY2022 and FY2023 forecasted budgets assume all vacancies are filled
- Beginning with FY2020, utility and fuel cost are consolidated into one cost center
For each of the individual town departments, the BOS budget includes highlighted initiatives that department heads plan to implement, as well as risks that might impact their proposed budgets (i.e. where anticipated savings may not materialize or extra costs could occur).
- Initiatives: Continue to maintain Wilton’s reputation as a safe community in which to live and work; Proper training to ensure the safety and health of all officers
- Risks: Overtime due to injury, illness or major event
- Initiatives: Management of overtime; focus on leadership trainings; ensure the safety of both residents and department members
- Risks: Retirement or resignation of a firefighter, lieutenant or captain; additional overtime; recruitment costs; lost time to Academy; injury
- Initiatives: Absorb the increased responsibility for addressing school attendance issues without a negative impact on department budget, and continued partnership with donors
- Risks: Additional mandated absorption of services currently provided by others; state budget cuts to grants
- Initiatives: Collaboration and shared services with the BOE to mutually reduce costs
- Risks: None
- Initiatives: Increased use of technology to improve customer service and efficiencies; continue public private partnership initiatives to improve town-owned open spaces and the Norwalk River
- Risks: Litigation
Department of Public Works
- Initiatives: Continued increased use of technology to effectively and efficiently manage work and assets
- Risks: Major weather event; Particularly bad winter; Injury
Parks and Recreation
- Initiatives: Public/private partnerships to fund new infrastructure or upgrades; continued alignment of programming revenues with programming costs
- Risks: Injury
Human Resources, Employee Benefits and Administration
- Initiatives: Collective bargaining negotiations; continued utilization of town counsel rather than outside counsel
- Risks: Collective bargaining negotiations
Board of Selectmen, Town Counsel and Economic Development
- Initiatives: Weekly meetings between town counsel and first selectwoman and staff to be ahead of potential issues; for Economic Development, pursue partnership with AdvanceCT to retain and recruit businesses; continued funding of Economic Development Commission and First Selectwoman’s Office initiatives to help drive economic development; funding for assistance with Wilton Center beautification initiative
- Risks: None
- Initiatives: WestCOG funded study of Weston and Wilton transfer station to identify mutual cost reductions; increased awareness of waste; identification of successful programs to reduce waste
- Risks: Increase in the volume of waste; changes in policy
- Initiatives: Continued use of an automated task management system; continued documentation of problem resolution–“how to” library; beginning comprehensive disaster recovery documentation
- Risks: None
- Advanced Life Support Fund: $100,000 (Revenue)
- Library: $2,879,146 (2.68% increase) (Expense)
- Trackside: $98,000 (0.0% increase) (Expense)
- Nursing and Home Care: $957,453 (1.17% increase) (Expense)
- Board of Finance: $65,500 (1.49% increase) (Expense)
- Ambler Farm: $25,488 (34.6% decrease) (Expense)
- Other: $887,897 (3.49% increase) (Expense)
The budget is available on the Town of Wilton website.