Wilton voters approved the town budget for FY-2017 following Tuesday evening’s Annual Town Meeting and vote, with 1,181 residents voting to approve the budget, and 924 voting against. But perhaps the bigger story is the vote spurred an 18-percent voter turnout rate, something Wilton hasn’t seen in recent years. In all, there were 2,106 ballots cast.

The budget in question reflects an overall operating budget of $125.5 million for FY-2017, a 1.0-percent increase over the prior year. Of those who voted against the budget, 888 voters said the budget proposed by town officials was too high, and 36 voters thought the budget was too low.

Voters approved the two bonding referendum questions on the ballot as well.

  • Appropriation of $1.8 million for year 5 of a five-year road paving project (1,636 YES, 452 NO)
  • Appropriation of $650,000 for replacement of the turf field at Memorial Stadium with new coconut husk infill turf stadium with concussion padding (1,200 YES, 891 NO)

Achieving more than a 15-percent voter turnout rate is a feat that hasn’t happened in the last three municipal budget votes. In fact, in last year’s annual town vote the budget was defeated by voters but automatically passed by default because only 11.5-percent of eligible voters turned out to the polls. Getting an active, over-15-percent turnout validated the result with a budget that truly passed.

Officials pointed to several factors at play which impacted turnout:

  • Wilton’s usage of the temporary traffic signs, strategically placed in Wilton Center and on Rte. 7, reminding residents of the town meeting and vote place and times.
  • The recorded Code Red community notification phone system call from first selectman Lynne Vanderslice reminding voters to attend the town meeting and head to the polls.
  • Emails sent by the Wilton Youth Football, Wilton Youth Field Hockey and Wilton Lacrosse Associations, asking their members to turn out and vote, to support the proposed bonding project to replace the turf field at Memorial Stadium
  • Media reminders, including GOOD Morning Wilton’s countdown clock and special email that supplemented coverage of  budget issues and actions made by town boards.
  • Increased online and social media chatter by residents.

First selectman Lynne Vanderslice was pleased with the turnout and had this to say about the vote:

“I am very happy with the turnout. Exceeding the 15-percent means the voters themselves were able to make the decision as to the budget and the bonding resolutions. For those who voted against the budget, I absolutely understand your concerns and will continue to try to run the town in the most cost efficient manner possible.”

For the Board of Education, winning vote was crucial, not only because they had already seen the Board of Finance make one reduction to their original proposal but also because they had fended off additional efforts to reduce their budget made from the floor of the Annual Town Meeting. It also legitimized the result, letting officials say that the town ‘actively’ approved the budget rather than seeing it passed by default.

Board of Education chair Bruce Likly was pleased with the outcome. “I am thrilled and greatly appreciative to all those who made the effort to get out and vote.”

Registrars of voters Carole Young-Kleinfeld (D) and Tina Gardner (R) called the budget vote turnout “much better than in past years.”  Young-Kleinfeld posted a thank you message on Facebook:

“Thanks to all of the voters who came out in icky weather and members of the media who helped get out the vote. Applause and thanks also to Wilton’s town staff and board members, our wonderful elections workers, DPW, school custodians–everyone who helped the voting go so smoothly!”

Playing Devil’s Advocate—The Other 82%

Wilton’s 18-percent turnout was lauded as something that was GOODincluding in our own coverage. But playing devil’s advocate, there were some readers who noted that feeling happy about an 18-percent turnout undershoots where Wilton should be for being able to get residents to fulfill their democratic responsibility.

As one school official noted, “There are 5,000-6,000 parents in the district. There were 2,100 voters in total to turn out.” Regardless of whether parents would ‘automatically’ support the school budget, school officials are trying to figure out what would increase parent turnout.

According to the 2010 census, there are 2,767 families with children under 18 in Wilton. Making a big assumption that there are two parents in each of those households, that makes 5,500 parents, most of whom are likely to be eligible voters. According to the registrars office, there are approximately 11,600 eligible voters all.

We’d like to try to understand what keeps people away from the polls. We’ve got some survey questions below that we’d like people to answer if they did not vote last week. It’s anonymous so no one will know if you didn’t vote, but you may help Wilton figure out what can get you to vote next time. And of course, this isn’t scientific, but it can be helpful nonetheless. Readers can only participate one time, and the survey answer period will end on May 11, at 11:59 p.m..

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