Despite a majority casting votes for “no, too high,” Wilton’s 2015-16 budget passed because fewer than 15-percent of the town’s eligible voters performed their civic duty of showing up at the polls this past week. Following the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday evening, May 5, and continued voting on Saturday, May 9, there were 679 voters who said the $112.4 million budget was too high, besting the 602 voters who approved the budget set forth by town officials (9 voters thought the budget was too low), but the budget passed regardless of the votes cast because not enough people voted to meet the minimum required.

All three bonding questions passed as well; these were decided on a straight “majority rules” basis, and didn’t require a certain percent of town voters in order to pass. The first–improvements to Fire Station #2 in North Wilton–passed 779 in support to 509 against; the second–repaving Wilton High School and Middlebrook parking lots–passed 700 in favor to 590 against; and the third–HVAC replacement at Middlebrook–was approved 796 for to 493 against.

Of the town’s 11,278 eligible voters, 1,294 of them showed up at the polls. That 11.5 percent of Wilton’s voters, reflects a chronic level of apathy seen repeatedly in the past few years. Here’s a sentence written in a GOOD Morning Wilton article about voter turnout from November, 2013:

“Wilton’s lackadaisical attitude toward municipal elections, especially those with no major referendum or question posed to voters was summed up by an 11.5-percent voter turnout.”

The 11.5-percent voter turnout for that November 2013 election–in which residents were voting on candidates running for municipal office–was almost twice as much as the number of voters who turned out for the budget vote in May of that same year, when voter numbers hit only 6.9-percent turnout. That time, a mere 806 people out of 11,647 bothered to show up to the polls.

What the Charter Says, and Why

The section of Wilton’s Charter that pertains to election results is section C-30, paragraph F.  Section C-30 outlines, “The procedures for setting the annual Town budget and the rate of taxation through and including the Annual Town Meeting.” The third item in paragraph F is most specific with regard to the percentage required to pass a budget:

The budget shall become the appropriation of the Town for the ensuing fiscal year unless at least 15% of the electors of the Town vote and a majority of those voting vote to reject the budget either because it is too high or because it is too low. If the budget is approved after amendment, the Board of Finance shall set the recommended rate of taxation for the ensuing fiscal year, reduced to reflect such amendment.

When the charter was last revised in 2012, this directive was carried over from the previous charter adopted by the town in 1992. According to one member of the charter commission, any discussion surrounding this section hewed to the opinion that town budget decisions shouldn’t be made by a small number of voters. In fact, some thought was given to the hypothetical case of preserving the 15-percent threshold against a small group of voters who supported a higher school budget by voting “no, too low.” In that case, the 15-percent threshold would protect property owners from facing higher taxes due to the wishes of less than 7.5% of the town.

This year, the opposite happened–the threshold blocked the small majority who voted “no, too high.”

Either way, according to Bob Russell–a former first selectman and Wilton’s town historian–the 15-percent line has a very specific rationale:

“The reasoning is if 85-percent–[actually] 88.5 percent this year–of the voters don’t bother to vote, the budget should be approved because the majority are not interested,” he told

In addition, Russell said that the town budget has been rejected only twice in recent history–in 1971 and 1996. “In both cases, the turnout was over 3,200 voters who were very aroused about the issues,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The lead paragraph of an earlier version of this article said the majority of voters cast votes for “no, too low,” even though the rest of the story was correct–that the majority of voters said the budget was “no, too high.” The lead paragraph has been corrected to read “no, too high.”