Members of Wilton’s Board of Selectmen logged into their Zoom meeting Tuesday evening, July 18 with a chock-full agenda in front of them. From decisions on forming a ‘sister city’ bond with a Ukrainian town to approvals of expenditures and agreements, and even a 30-minute executive session, they wasted no time in getting through that agenda.

Ukrainian Sister City

After an executive session to discuss the lease for the town-owned Wilton Center Town Green, the BOS members quickly moved on to discussing whether to work with the non-profit organization Ukraine Aid International to form an alliance with a city in Ukraine.

The BOS first considered the proposal last month after First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice was approached by former First Selectmen Paul Hannah and Bill Brennan, about the idea. Several surrounding towns have opted to participate, including Westport, Weston, Greenwich, Fairfield, Stamford and Easton.

Vanderslice had suggested the initiative wouldn’t be a priority for most residents and the town would need an official policy on sister cities before pursuing it. She also questioned whether the objective would be for the town to fundraise in support of relief efforts in the war-torn country and whether that was appropriate.

Since then, both she and Selectman Ross Tartell did a bit more investigating about the program and they returned to the topic at last night’s meeting. They both concluded, as Tartell put it, that “there’s not been a groundswell” of public interest.

Vanderslice, who received only one formal email supporting her initial reasons for not pursuing a sister city relationship, agreed that there was no public expression of enthusiasm. “The lack of commentary from the public says something.”

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With municipal elections approaching, and Vanderslice retiring from office at her term’s end on Nov. 30, Tartell suggested that the topic was “…not for now but it should be revisited later,” when the next first selectman takes office. “Time is short and we shouldn’t make a commitment that then gets landed in somebody’s lap unnecessarily,” he said.

Selectman Bas Nabulsi agreed that pursuing a Ukrainian sister city agreement wasn’t something to do at the current time but that it could be considered by the next BOS post-election. “It doesn’t foreclose the possibility that we could revisit it,” he said.

BOS members Josh Cole and Kim Healy disagreed, siding with Vanderslice when she said, “I don’t think that this is appropriate for town business.”

“It’s more appropriate to be something taken up by [WiACT] the interfaith council or Kiwanis or some community service organization as opposed to the town,” Second Selectman Cole said, although he conceded that perhaps a future board “will come to a different conclusion.”

Executing Agreements

The Board moved swiftly through the next two items.

The first vote unanimously gave approval to Vanderslice to execute the agreement to receive $1.425 million in federal funding for the drainage project around the Wilton High School sports complex — a project deemed necessary after a 2021 storm caused significant damage in the area.

With the agreement signed, Town Administrator Matt Knickerbocker said the town can expect construction to start in spring 2024.

A rendering of the Wilton High School complex area in need of improved drainage. A $1.425 million federal grant was awarded to Wilton to pay for the project. Credit: HUD FY'23 Community Project Funding Grant Agreement NO. B-23-CP-CT-0325 / Town of Wilton

The board also gave its approval for Vanderslice to sign an agreement with Silver Petrucelli Architects to perform engineering work on the Cider Mill School elevator replacement project, at a cost of $36,700. When that stage is completed, the project will then go out to bid on the actual replacement.

Early Voting Means Keeping Votes Secure

The BOS gave its approval to another simple — yet vital — expenditure request.

With the recent statewide approval of up to 14 days of early in-person voting, Wilton’s registrars of voters Karen Birck and Annalisa Stravato had requested $10,000 to create a “secure storage place” in their office to keep any early “live” ballots cast and protect election integrity.

As Knickerbocker put it, “That is going to require a new layer of security to maintain those ballots, because the ballots will not be counted until voting day.”

The ask was essentially an accounting one: they hoped to move $10,000 in operating capital funds from the $90,000 they’d been allocated in the FY’24 budget approved in May to replace aging vote tabulators, and redirect it for this new purpose.

Knickerbocker said actual costs to modify the space would likely not exceed the $10,000 estimates that the registrars had received.

Healy asked whether the existing absentee ballot box located on the Town Hall campus could fit the bill. Knickerbocker said the registrars expect they’ll need significantly more space than the box offers as well as a more secure area. That secure area would also store any absentee ballots cast before Election Day on Nov. 7.

Healy also inquired about whether any state funding had been allocated to cover the costs that came with the new state law.

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“They did pass a bill with some money in the budget, and [Secretary of State] Stephanie Thomas has been looking for money, which would pay for the new voting machines, so hopefully we won’t need to spend as much,” Vanderslice told the BOS.

Knickerbocker said that the remaining operating capital funds to replace the tabulators would likely be sufficient.

“I wanted to make sure they don’t short themselves. At the time the budget was developed they were using a relatively high number, most likely they’re in fine shape on that. And there is some outside possibility there will be state funding to replace some tabulators,” he said.

The BOS approved reallocating up to $10,000 within the operating capital budget for secure storage.

Other Approvals

The BOS members also voted to approve the following measures:

  • Following a recent cybersecurity assessment of town hall IT systems, the town will allocate $20,000 for the same consultants to perform a “comprehensive analysis” of townwide technology systems. The analysis is “to see where we can find efficiencies, smoother operations and lower costs,” Knickerbocker said.
  • After a resident emailed asking town officials to consider offering motor vehicle property tax relief to people with disabilities, the BOS approved a town ordinance to do just that. Vanderslice also recommended that the town should explore other optional tax relief programs, noting the town has done so before for people in other categories, including Gold Star families.
  • The BOS appointed Tartell and Healy and reappointed Cole to open seats on the Wilton Pollution Control Authority (WPCA), following a prior decision by the BOS to appoint selectmen to the WPCA when positions become vacant. With the WPCA currently evaluating Wilton’s sewer system and capacity, and given the increasing number of current and future large development projects in town, Vanderslice felt it was important to appoint elected officials. She added that it’s rare for volunteers from the public to have the engineering experience from which the town could benefit but would notify the Republican and Democratic Town Committees of that need.