As part of GMW.com‘s coverage of the elections on Nov. 3, and of the campaigns leading up to that day, we have set out some guidelines. Candidates are invited to submit op-ed pieces before the elections. Peter Balderston and Walter Kress are the Republican candidates for Wilton’s Board of Finance.
How are Wilton’s finances these days?
As private citizens, we’ve sensed for some time now a general sentiment that property taxes in our town are too high and need to be moderated. Significant year-over-year tax increases pre-2008 recession have left homes in Wilton saddled with sizeable tax burdens which seem to have put a lid on property prices and sales. The town’s Grand List (the total taxable value of all private Wilton real estate) lingers at 86.4-percent of its peak in 2007, while a number of surrounding towns are now close to their grand list highs from 2007/2008. Most realtors in town will tell you that more than a few prospective home buyers they’ve met look to other towns once they discover how high real estate taxes are per value of real estate they can get for their money. For those who live here, dissatisfaction with town spending seems to have been demonstrated recently in the 2015 town budget vote, where rejections outnumbered approvals for the first time since 1996. The budget passed only because turnout for the vote did not reach the 15-percent minimum threshold required by the Town Charter. In fact, voter turnout in the past three years has been at record lows and has not breached the 15-percent minimum in the past four years. This is not an encouraging sign.
Projections by three consultants recently retained by Wilton’s Board of Education forecast an era of declining school enrollment estimated to be between -13.7 percent and -19.4 percent over the next eight school years. This means that by 2023, school enrollment is expected to be back to pre-1999 levels. Managing the reduction in costs associated with this decline without having class sizes grow further will take discipline, creative solutions such as cost sharing arrangements and bench marking to make sure as a town we are adopting best practices among our peers, all while maintaining excellence in our schools. We need to get back to the virtuous cycle where quality schools and competitive property taxes lure new home buyers to Wilton, thereby increasing property values and tax revenues. Having voter engagement in the process will insure that we get there collectively.
As Wilton residents running for the two vacating Republican seats on the Board of Finance, we will:
- Develop strong communications with a broad cross section of Wilton taxpayers ⎯ to whom the Board of Finance is accountable ⎯ to make sure we understand voters’ evolving priorities and that voters better understand the process surrounding the development of the operating and capital budgets;
- Be good stewards of the Town’s assets and work to preserve our Aaa bond rating to help keep financing costs for necessary long-term capital projects low;
- Identify common goals between the Board of Finance and Board of Education so that, where appropriate, the two organizations can work closely together to find the right path between fiscal discipline and maintaining our first-class schools;
- Research creative ways to reduce town expenses via cost sharing alternatives with other towns;
- Take every opportunity to benchmark Wilton against other Connecticut towns and adopt cost saving best practice wherever possible
Finally, regardless of your party affiliation, we ask that you make every effort to vote this coming Election Day (Nov. 3, 2015). An informed and engaged electorate benefits all Wilton citizens.