How does the Town of Wilton set its budget every year at the Annual Town Meeting? For newcomers and longtime residents alike, it can sometimes be confusing. With the Annual Town Meeting (ATM) coming up next Tuesday, May 2 (and continued voting on Saturday, May 6), it’s important that everyone understand how it works and why it’s important to attend.
To help, we’ve created this ‘Wilton 101’ video all about the process of considering the Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposed by town leaders — the budget that will determine what Wilton residents and property owners pay in taxes.
Annual Town Meeting Details
The meeting is held at the Wilton High School Clune Auditorium (395 Danbury Rd.). Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for check in — don’t forget to bring an I.D. — and the meeting begins at 7 p.m.
All members of the public can attend, but only eligible voters can participate. To be eligible, you must be one of the following:
- registered to vote in Wilton
- a U.S. citizen, 18-years-old or older, who owns taxable property with an assessed value of $1,000 or more on the Oct. 1, 2021 grand list.
Attendees who are not eligible to vote will sit in a different section of the auditorium.
There are three parts to the budget: the school budget from the Board of Education; the town budget from the Board of Selectmen; and the operating capital budget — those building and maintenance projects that the town pays for by bonding.
Wilton voters get a direct say in setting the budget and how the town spends their tax money through a system of government called a “Town Meeting.” Every eligible resident and property owner is a member of the Town Meeting, almost like it’s the town’s legislature.
Every year on the first Tuesday night in May, the Town Meeting gathers to meet for the Annual Town Meeting. That’s when town officials will explain their proposed budgets, and then residents have a chance to ask questions, say what they think, or propose changes.
The only changes that can be proposed are further budget reductions. Only people actually in the auditorium at the ATM can propose more reductions or oppose them.
During the public comment period (which follows Roberts Rules of Order), eligible voters can speak about the proposed budgets, and make motions to change them. Under the Town Charter, the only changes that can be proposed are further budget reductions. Only people actually in the auditorium at the ATM can propose more reductions or oppose them.
The motions that can be made are::
- reduce a line item in the Board of Selectmen (town) budget
- reduce the total Board of Education (school) budget
- reduce other line items in the budget, but not to the extent that the town can’t meet legal obligations.
The Town Meeting will debate what to do, and then once the vote is called, eligible voters who are present will vote on the motions and, by a majority vote, will choose a recommended budget to present to voters.
That’s why attending the ATM in person is critical. It’s the only way to have real impact on the final budget voters will consider.
There are also five bonding resolutions that will be presented, and there is public comment on the bonding questions. Motions cannot be made to change the bonding resolutions.
Immediately after the ATM adjourns, voting will begin.and continues on Saturday, May 6.
The bonding referendums are simple YES or NO votes, and they require no minimum voter turnout — they will pass or fail based on whatever the actual YES or NO vote is.
For the budget vote, voters have three options to consider:
- YES, I approve the budget proposed at the Annual Town Meeting
- NO, the budget is TOO HIGH
- NO, the budget is TOO LOW
As always, the town needs to reach a 15% voter turnout threshold in order for the votes to qualify. Otherwise, with less than a 15% voter turnout, the budget automatically passes, no matter what votes are cast.
If voter turnout is 15% or higher, all the ‘yes’ votes are counted, and all the ‘no’ votes are added together. If there are more ‘yes’ votes, the budget passes. If there are more ‘no’ votes, the Board of Finance will go back and revise the budget based on the numbers of ‘too high’ and ‘too low’ votes, and bring it back to voters again.