Right now, Wilton’s attention is focused on proposed state legislation that would regionalize school districts. But First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice says there are several more bills that have been put forward in Hartford that she’s watching, and while some are good there are others that concern her.

The first one she mentions is House Bill 6559, An Act Concerning Municipal Budget Reserves. This bill would help towns in binding arbitration, an area many officials have felt hampered by. Currently, if stalemates occur when towns negotiate salary increases with employee unions, it moves to binding arbitration–and an arbitrator will look at the town assets to make a decision. One of the things that is considered is the town’s reserves, the allocated fund balance.

While Wilton keeps its fund balance at 10% of operating costs in order to keep its AAA ratings, that amount can be a disadvantage in binding arbitration. Moreover, if the town budget runs favorable at the end of the year, that balance rises above 10%.

“In binding arbitration, they can look at that fund balance, so there’s a disincentive [to keep it high]. If you’re a town, that isn’t that well managed, and doesn’t have AAA rating, you have a lower reserve, and that helps you during contract negotiations. This bill says that any reserve below 15% of your total budget cannot be considered in contract negotiations. So it allows the towns that have AAA rating, and therefore have higher reserves, not to be penalized during the binding arbitration. It gives you a little bit better ability to manage your reserves, without being penalized.”

Another bill Vanderslice is watching wouldn’t have as positive an outcome for Wilton, she says. That legislation is Senate Bill 431 An Act Concerning Property Tax Reform. This one would repeal towns’ ability to tax motor vehicle property and allow the state to collect it instead. She says that while it may lower what residents will pay for tax on their cars, it will wind up costing them more in what they’ll have to pay to the towns.

“That one is very concerning because of two things. One, it gets the state in the business of property taxes. The state doesn’t assess property taxes, right now. And it would begin to shift what we can tax, versus what the state can tax. It’s kind of a bait-and-switch,” she says. “The towns are going to have to raise the taxes on your house to make up for the loss. So it’s really just increasing the tax burden on most Connecticut residents overall because it’s going to force all the municipalities to increase their mill rates.”

She adds that the state would likely continue to raise the level of that tax. “Property taxes tend to go up, not down.”

If this were to pass, Vanderslice has said it would leave Wilton with a $6.5 million hole in its revenues–a number that would be difficult to manage with budget cuts only.

There are indications that there’s likely more bad state budget news headed Connecticut’s way. Earlier this week, New York’s Governor Cuomo announced that New York was short $2.3 billion in December’s tax receipts. That makes Vanderslice anxious to hear what Connecticut’s numbers will be–and if there will be a similar deficit.

“Cuomo said people are leaving the state because of the federal law, where they can’t deduct their property taxes anymore. We all know they’re leaving these states. You can go to Austin, Texas and pay zero income tax,” she notes.

There are other bills related to affordable housing and zoning authority that concern Vanderslice too.

“There are bills that seek to increase the amount of affordable housing, in the suburbs. There is one bill that would allow the housing authority to go beyond their border by 30 miles. So a housing authority in Stamford can put affordable housing 30 miles outside of Stamford. There’s another one, that says you can do mixed-use development by right, within a half a mile within any bus or train stop, any transit transportation stop. ‘By right’ means it’s the right of a property owner, that you don’t need the zoning regulation to say you can do it. And then there is another bill to raise the [state required] 10% affordable housing, that you would now have to have 12% affordable housing. I understand from [Wilton State Representative] Gail Lavielle, that they’re not going to look at 8-30G in this session. But these other bills just say, ‘Okay, let’s find another way to do this.'”

What concerns Vanderslice is how all of these bills will impact economic development. She says state legislators are sending a mixed message.

“There is such over-reach. The bill on the regionalizing school districts is such an over-reach. The one on the housing authority is such over-reach. What message are we sending to businesses, to future residents?” she asks rhetorically. “It feels like the right hand and the left hand are not talking. On one hand we’re putting some really powerful people up in economic development, and with the new partnership with CERC [CT Economic Resource Center], and CERC is out there to recruit businesses. Yet on the other hand, we have these bills, that will scare off investment in Connecticut.”

Vanderslice provided a longer list of bills put together by WestCOG [the Western Council of Governments] that are being tracked. There are several bills among them that might have significance for Wilton:

    • HB 6745 An Act Allowing Different Mill Rates for Residential and Commercial Property
    • SB 526 An Act Concerning the Municipal Fiscal Year (allows municipalities to use the federal fiscal year)
    • HB 6565 An Act Permitting Municipalities to Publish Legal Notices on the Internet
    • HB 5617 An Act Concerning Exemptions from the Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Procedure