Which Infrastructure Projects will Get Wilton’s $6.6 Million?

Selectmen Agree on Top Infrastructure Spending Priorities, But Debate Continues on Turf, Trails and More Municipal Improvements

Source: Town of Wilton, Zoom recording

With the FY2023 budget now finalized and voter approval of all proposed bonding projects (including the long-awaited police station headquarters), Wilton’s Board of Selectmen turned its attention to other new and ongoing Town matters — including how to spend $6.6 million on new infrastructure projects.

That was just one priority at Tuesday evening’s (May 17) BOS meeting, when the members gathered for the first time since the May 3 Annual Town Meeting. On their long agenda, the members discussed grant applications, infrastructure spending priorities, affordable housing, commission appointments, and more.

But the lion’s share of the selectmen’s meeting time went to a review of potential infrastructure spending projects that would significantly impact residents and the Town. While the selectmen reached a consensus on what the more immediate spending priorities will be, many others are still TBD — including requests for a new turf field, a Merwin Meadows playground overhaul, and much-needed repairs at the Ambler Farm “Yellow House”, as well as many other projects.

Top Priorities for ARPA and Infrastructure Funds

The BOS has spent the past several months identifying projects that could potentially be funded by millions of dollars the Town has available for infrastructure spending.

At the May 17 meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice shared a work-in-progress spreadsheet that detailed the long list of funding requests sought by multiple Town departments, including Environmental Affairs, Public Works and Parks and Recreation.

Vanderslice acknowledged the simple reality facing the selectmen.

“You’ve all looked at the spreadsheet. You know the requests significantly exceed the available funds,” Vanderslice said. “This [review] exercise we’re going through may serve as our long-term plan for funding — we’re going to prioritize some things, and we may say other things are worthwhile [but] we just have to see how they fit in over the next few years.”

Of the total $6.6 million in available funds — which includes $5.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grants and $1.2 million in the Town’s Infrastructure Fund — at least $3.5 million has already been prioritized (items in green type in the chart below.)

Specifically, $3.1 million would go to a required upgrade of the Town’s emergency communication system (that is the balance of the total cost after a $983,000 Congressional grant). The selectmen will also “hold back” $240,000 from the available funds as a cost contingency.

Source: Board of Selectmen, ARPA/Infrastructure Fund Priorities, May 17, 2022

The immediate priorities for ARPA funds also include drainage upgrades at the Wilton High School sports complex, starting with a critical berm to be constructed as part of a larger project.

Vanderslice is cautiously optimistic about a grant application to cover $986,000 toward the total cost of the drainage project, but has recommended the BOS move ahead with allocating $173,000 for the berm without delay (along with $293,000 for other high-priority drainage work identified by DPW.)

The selectmen voted unanimously to proceed with those top priorities with ARPA funds.

Municipal Facilities

While department heads from Environmental Affairs and Parks and Recreation have already made their requests, Facilities Director Chris Burney was the final official to brief the selectmen on his funding needs for necessary work at some Town-owned properties, which he did at Tuesday’s meeting. Some of the more significant projects on his list would be:

  • $120,000 for a possible renovation of 7 New St., a residential property owned by the Town and rented out for many years. The property is being considered as a site for affordable housing, which could change the direction of any renovations.
  • $300,000 for conversion to 100-yard dumpsters at the Transfer Station, a move expected to create operational cost savings
  • At least $20,000 and potentially up to $250,000 for replacing the fallen architectural column in front of Town Hall and — if it’s found to be structurally unsound — the entire slab upon which the columns rest as well
  • $150,000 to $400,00 for lead abatement of the interior, exterior and soil at the Ambler Farm “Yellow House” which is owned by the Town. (Vanderslice noted this was the “minimum” work needed to make the house habitable and does not include other desirable upgrades such as kitchen and bath renovations to bring the house to its full potential.)

More Prioritizing to Come

Ultimately, the BOS will have to decide how to allocate the remaining ARPA and Infrastructure funds among the three competing departments.

Environmental Affairs, with the support of Wilton’s Conservation Commission, has requested $577,000 for projects at Schenck’s Island, the Quarry Head Park access road, downed tree removal in the Town Forest, and other projects at Wilton’s trails and open spaces.

The Parks and Recreation Department has requested $1,655,000, which includes $705,000 for drainage study and repairs at the Middlebrook sports fields; $250,000 for Merwin Meadows playground upgrades; $200,000 for the design of a new turf field and a $500,000 “contribution” toward its construction.

The selectmen agreed to give additional thought as to which requests should be prioritized for funding and to deliberate further at their June 6 meeting.

Other BOS Business

  • Director of Land Use and Town Planner Michael Wrinn updated the BOS on the Town’s affordable housing plan. Under state statutes, Wilton is required to update its affordable housing plan every five years. Wrinn had been leading Wilton’s work as part of a regional effort organized by the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG), a regional agency representing 18 municipalities, including Wilton.

The draft plan outlines five strategies for achieving the plan, which states: “The Town of Wilton needs greater diversity in its housing stock in order to retain a valuable older population that wishes to downsize, housing to allow young people to stay in the town they grew up in and varied housing types to attract young families and professionals. The main objective will to be increase the types and availability of multi-family housing and smaller housing units (both rental and ownership) built in places and in a manner consistent with the Wilton 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).”

  • Wilton’s Chief Financial Officer Dawn Norton provided brief comments about Wilton’s fiscal outlook for the current budget year which will be ending in about six weeks. “Revenue and expenses for fiscal 2022 are tracking as we anticipated, and within budget,” Norton told the board.
  • Norton also informed the board of the state’s legislation action (HB 5167) which gives municipalities the option to defer the property revaluations scheduled for October 1, 2022 for one year, until October 1, 2023. Norton described the move as “very beneficial” to Wilton property owners, essentially offering a reprieve from higher tax bills that would result from increased property values in the hot real estate market. The BOS voted unanimously on the motion to defer the valuations until October 2023.
  • Vanderslice told her fellow board members about Connecticut Economic Development Week, which took place May 9-13, organized the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) along with the Connecticut Economic Development Association (CEDAS) and AdvanceCT. Vanderslice said she participated in two seminars with “some very good takeaways.” She also noted that Wilton’s “development activity is kicking up” and hinted “a lot more” development news could be coming soon.