The main agenda item at the Monday evening (March 1) meeting of the Wilton Board of Selectmen was the discussion of the FY2022 town budget proposal.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice presented her 2021-2022 budget request for the town of $33,943,486, which is an increase of $1,027,762 or 3.12% over the FY2021 budget. (Note: Superintendent Kevin Smith presented his proposed FY2022 school budget to the Board of Education separately, on Feb. 25.)

With FY2021 budget fluctuations (actual spending came in significantly under budget as a result of the COVID pandemic), the BOS proposed budget increase is just 0.38% over FY2020; the two-year average annual increase is 0.19%.

During the discussion, Vanderslice characterized the budget as “very respectable” and praised the town leadership and department heads for their “very thoughtful” and “serious” approach to the use of taxpayer dollars in the budget.

Vanderslice succinctly outlined the three primary goals for the new budget:

  1. “Continued efforts to provide the quality services Wilton residents and businesses expect at the lowest possible cost”
  2. “Continued efforts to ensure the health and safety of the community throughout the pandemic and pandemic recovery”
  3. “Increased Investment in the Future”

Reflected in the budget, and offsetting a potentially larger increase, are significant employee medical cost savings of just over $450,000. But the proposed budget reveals three key areas that are contributing to the net increase:

  • $525,010 in “restored expenses” that were temporarily eliminated or deferred in FY2021
  • $396,000 in wage increases (Note: from FY2019 to FY2021, the town saw significant savings due to “temporary cost avoidance from vacant positions”. The proposed new budget assumes all vacancies are filled.)
  • $312,800 in “new initiatives” that include investment in vital broadband and cell capabilities and infrastructure; master planning; and economic development, among others

Vanderslice: “We Must Invest Now”

Vanderslice believes that prudent fiscal management and “the permanent reductions we have made to the ongoing cost of town government” have created an opportunity for the town to proceed with multiple important technology, infrastructure and planning initiatives.

Vanderslice referred several times during the meeting to the pandemic’s effect on residents’ work-from-home needs and the “inadequate internet and cell service” many experience. “This was not recognized as a high priority when we developed our POCD [Plan of Conservation and Development, in 2019]. It is now. As far as infrastructure, we must invest in ‘now’ before we can invest in ‘new’ infrastructure,” she said.

Specifically, the proposed budget calls for (among some smaller line items):

  • $100,000 to explore and invest in improved cell and broadband service in Wilton (the latter is something Vanderslice says the governor is also prioritizing highly)
  • $150,000 for investment in the town’s Master Planning (an initiative being led by Planning & Zoning Commission sub-committee)

When asked during the meeting whether the new spending was sufficient, Vanderslice said, “The FY2022 budget presented is appropriate to support future growth” but noted that future budgets could also address any shortcomings given the lead time of various development projects and Master Planning.

Next Steps

The next BOS meeting is Monday, March 16. This meeting will include review of the proposed budget with the Board of Finance. An agenda will be posted 24 hours in advance (or one business day prior) on the BOS webpage on the town website.

Two public hearings will also be held, one on March 29 for the proposed BOE budget, and one on March 30 for the proposed BOS budget.

The timeline is proceeding according to what is set in the Town Charter. Vanderslice informed the BOS that, contrary to their hopes and to last year’s budget process, there is no executive order expected to provide budget timing relief (due to Governor Lamont’s emergency authority set to expire soon), and no plans are being discussed in the state legislature.

Without an executive order or legislative action, Vanderslice noted, the Annual Town Meeting will have to be conducted in-person, as the Town Charter requires. Vanderslice indicated she would be working with Health Director Barry Bogle to determine where and how to do it safely, assuming social distancing precautions will still be in place (the Wilton High School stadium is one possibility.) The ATM is currently scheduled for May 8 with the adjourned vote on May 15. Careful planning will allow for rain dates (and possibly, multiple rain dates) to be announced in advance.

Budget Meeting Reminders:

All meetings of town boards are open to the public but are being held on Zoom during COVID. To attend a meeting remotely, you can find the Zoom link on the meeting agenda page on the town website.

To submit a comment for a BOS meeting, send an email to Lori Bufano. Include “PUBLIC COMMENT” in the subject line along with your name and Wilton address. The email will be read and reviewed during the public comment portion of the agenda.

Budget news taking you by surprise? Not sure where we are in the process? Read our primer for everything you need to know about Wilton’s budget process