The Board of Selectmen (BOS) is getting down to business on budget planning for FY2024.

At the Tuesday, Jan. 24 BOS meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice presented how she views “the budget climate we’re in” and the context that climate is creating for the FY2024 BOS budget planning process, now underway.

While Vanderslice says she is “pretty confident” she can deliver a modest BOS budget in line with ongoing expectations, she is also highlighting several concerns about the current budget climate in which the municipal and school budgets are being developed and evaluated.

The Climate

In her presentation (also posted on the Town website) Vanderslice pointed out the difficulty in BOS budget planning given the earlier lack of guidance from the Board of Finance (BOF) and the very high initial budget proposal put forth by Superintendent Kevin Smith to the Board of Education (BOE).

“This past fall, the BOF projected a 4% FY2024 mill rate increase based on various assumptions, including budget increases of 2% for BOS and 3% [for BOE],” Vanderslice began.

However, she said, the BOF did not provide specific guidance to either the BOE or BOS to use when producing their FY’24 budget proposals — guidance she had pushed for several months ago.

Citing the 6% increase in Superintendent Kevin Smith‘s initial budget run, Vanderslice noted that “the revised projection is now a 5% to 6% increase in the mill rate.”

“The BOF hasn’t provided guidance on the projections or the BOS budget expectations,” Vanderslice stated, further noting that BOF members did not vote unanimously on last year’s BOE, BOS and mill rate resolutions.

Vanderslice also referred to the results of various surveys in recent years, all of which seemed to suggest there is little appetite among most residents for large tax increases .

Selectman Ross Tartell noted the quandary of interpreting survey results that say residents support proposed budgets but not the associated tax increases.

“At the end of the day… most people in this town don’t want to pay any more taxes, but they have a tolerance for some level of increase,” Vanderslice said.

She also cited a number of “unknowns” that could affect the mill rate, including:

  • The October 1, 2022 Grand List
  • Interest rates
  • Revenues from supplemental motor vehicle taxes, conveyance and building permits
  • FY2023 excess revenue

Vanderslice thinks a longer-term view is important.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to just look at one year,” Vanderslice said. “You have to look at what’s coming up next.”

Vanderslice said “without question” she would continue efforts to secure grants as a means to minimize tax increases, but outlined two key areas of concern over the next 2-3 years:

  • The upcoming property revaluation, in which homes values are expected to increase while office buildings will decrease, could shift more tax burden to homeowners
  • Potential legislation for transit-oriented development, school regionalization or affordable housing could reduce the Town’s chances to receive state funding

Selectman Bas Nabulsi asked Vanderslice if she thought the department budgets (and therefore, the overall BOS budget) were shaping up to be “on target” for the 2% BOS budget increase, as assumed in the BOF mill rate projections.

“I’m fairly confident that we’re going to be within that range,” Vanderslice responded.

“I still have more to look at,” she cautioned. “But I’m not nervous.”

Wilton Library Association Budget Request

The Board of Selectmen got its first peek at budget details from the Wilton Library Association (WLA).

The WLA operates on an annual grant from the Town in addition to revenue from its own books sales and private fundraising efforts.

The Library Board of Trustees President Rob Sanders and Treasurer Mike Boswood and the Library’s Executive Director Caroline Mandler attended Tuesday’s BOS meeting to present the WLA’s proposed FY’24 budget request for $3,928,046.

The library’s proposed budget reflects an increase of $182,810, or 4.88%, over the previous year.

The WLA is requesting a Town grant of roughly $2.98 million for FY’24, a 2.86% increase year-over-year. The budget assumes book sales income and other revenues will increase by 20% and WLA fundraising will increase by 9%.

Mandler and Boswood described the FY’24 budget as a “post-COVID” budget which reflected:

  • the impact of inflation on building utilities and maintenance costs (up roughly 36%) and technology costs (up roughly 12%)
  • new staff (1.5 full-time equivalent) “to support program expansion and
    continued investment in the Brubeck Archive and associated activities” (Boswood noted that staffing will still remain below pre-pandemic levels)
  • a recently-undertaken strategic planning process that will outline a series of goals and objectives, to be shared with the public in the coming weeks

New Lease for Allen’s Meadow

The selectmen also discussed the next steps for a new lease for state-owned land at Allen’s Meadow.

The discussion followed a recent announcement that the CT Department of Transportation (CT-DOT) had approved new uses for the state-owned land at Allen’s Meadow leased by Wilton, opening up possibilities for a new turf field with lights and a seasonal bubble.

Vanderslice revealed she was “very, very surprised” at the state’s approval of Wilton’s request, particularly for the bubble, given the time that had elapsed and the layers of approvals that were needed from multiple departments.

“We were stunned, but thrilled,” Vanderslice said, describing the bubble concept as “unique, timely and really exciting.”

Vanderslice said she expected “no hiccups” before the new lease takes effect, which will be prior to November 2023, when the current lease expires.

“As soon as we get the lease, we’ll bring it here [to the BOS],” Vanderslice said. “I don’t want to say the terms until I see [the lease], but I don’t think it’s going to be substantially different than what we already have.”

While the lease might be buttoned up, costs for designing and constructing the new turf field and bubble are not yet known.

As a next step, an RFQ will be developed by DPW Director Frank Smeriglio, working with Town Administrator Matt Knickerbocker, Parks & Recreation Department Director Steve Pierce, Parks & Recreation Commission Chair John Macken, and Amenities Master Plan committee member Scott Lawrence.

Previous estimates at other locations have put the total cost of a new turf field in the range of $2 million — not even including a seasonal bubble. Funding will likely come from multiple sources:

  • The Town Turf Fund, approximately $300,000 (including $60,000 from WARF from the sales of signs)
  • Bonding referendum at the May 2023 Annual Town Meeting — amount TBD
  • WARF fundraising — amount also TBD

 Vanderslice noted that the turf and bubble may be done in phases.

More BOS News

  • Police Department Captain Tom Conlon appeared at the meeting to discuss a proposal to purchase replacements for body-worn cameras. Specifically, the Department proposed purchasing 34 new cameras and related gear at a cost of $50,000, which would be paid from $130,000 in asset forfeiture funds. The BOS unanimously approved the purchase.
  • Matt Knickerbocker appeared at the meeting to discuss an electric supply agreement with ENGIE Resources, which could save the Town roughly $50,000 per month over a new agreement with Wilton’s current supplier, Eversource.
  • The selectmen also unanimously authorized proposed contracts for:
    • replacing the deteriorated and failing stockade fence at the back of Town Hall ($16,000)
    • services related to the upcoming property revaluation process ($126,800)
  • The selectmen reviewed plans for Eversource to conduct tree work along roughly 15 miles of Wilton roads in 2023, primarily in areas of southwest and southeast Wilton. A report posted on the Town website revealed roughly half of the 450 outages in 2022 were tree-related, as were 202 blocked roads over the past four years. GOOD Morning Wilton will report further on this in a separate story.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to specify the timeframe for the estimated savings from the ENGIE Resources contract.

2 replies on “Vanderslice Raises Concerns about ‘The Climate’ Surrounding FY’24 Budget Planning”

  1. What Wilton desperately needs are “posted quiet zones” in residential neighborhoods. And a noise ordinance like most towns have. We are the outlier in this respect. The recent craze, for loud cars and the back street racing in small neighborhoods has dramatically increased and has negatively affected the QOL for many who are unable to enjoy their outside areas because of it as well as negatively affecting home values. (- 20% for a noisy neighborhood!) The incessant noise is a known health hazard not to mention the danger of racing on these winding streets w kids, dogs and pedestrians.
    Wake up Wilton….get a noise ordinance in place and stop this insanity.

  2. When are we going to have face to face in house Board of Selectmen mtgs? The pandemic is over and zoom can still be an option.

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