This year’s Annual Town Meeting and Adjourned Vote had a heightened undercurrent of uncertain energy. How would voters respond to a $1.4 million reduction by the Board of Finance to the proposed FY’24 school budget? What impact would a “Vote No, Too Low” campaign have, when many people said they were uncertain the BOF would respond accordingly if that’s the way they voted? And which way would voters go on the referendum on bonding $1.935 million for a new artificial turf field at Allen’s Meadow?

Going into Saturday’s (May 6) voting, even many seasoned budget vote-watchers were unsure. So when a relatively large voter turnout materialized — 20.59% of 12,329 eligible voters — the results were noteworthy.

Budget Vote Results

Voters approved of the proposed $134,951,947 FY’24 operating budget by a wide majority: 1,590 people (63.52%) voted to approve the budget while 913 people (36.48%) voted against.

The votes against reflected a combined tally of people voting “No, too High” — 557 (22.25%) — and those voting “No, too Low” — 356 (14.22%).

This year’s “No, too Low” vote was remarkable for several reasons. At 14.22%, the 356 voters choosing “No, too Low” were a significantly larger group than at any point in the last two decades. In fact, the last time this group was noticeably large was in 2010 when 5.2% of the voters sent that “too Low” message about the budget. Most years, the strength of that vote floats somewhere between 0%-2%.

The “No, too Low” vote has other significance. Because of the way Wilton’s town vote works, the “No, too High” and “No, too Low” votes are combined. If voter turnout hits 15%, then the actual vote of “Yes” vs. the combined “No” votes decides the question. If enough voters show up to the polls, and the combined “No” votes outweigh the “Yesses,” the budget heads back to the Board of Finance (BOF), which is supposed to adjust the budget based on those votes and bring it back to voters again.

In the last 10 years, Wilton has only surpassed 15% voter turnout twice. Many observers assume when less than 15% shows up, that’s a sign voters don’t object to the budget proposed by the Board of Finance. This year, because many voters believed turnout would likely be higher, some voters who said they considered voting “No, too Low” feared their vote would, when combined with the “No, too High” votes, send the budget back to the Board of Finance.

At the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 2, several residents made it clear they were unhappy the BOF had already made a $1.4 million reduction to the portion of the proposed budget that would fund Wilton’s schools. Several expressed a concern that although they believed the education budget was “too low,” they didn’t trust the BOF would refrain from making further cuts if the budget was returned to them.

There had been a concerted effort to convince voters to choose “No, too Low.” Interestingly enough, that campaign was being promoted by Board of Finance member Chris Stroup, who was one of two members who did not support making that $1.4 million reduction. His campaign, supported widely through ads placed in GOOD Morning Wilton, was something he said he undertook as a private citizen and not a BOF member.

It’s hard to say whether the vote breakdown would have been different without the “No, too Low” votes standing on their own. But either way, with the turnout hitting above 20%, Wilton’s FY’24 budget will be the one the BOF sent to voters in the first place.

YearTotal votersNo too LOWPercentageNo too HIGHPercentage% YESVoter turnout
(Average: 32.57%)

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice emailed a comment on the voting results on Sunday.

“The results once again demonstrated the level of property taxes is of concern to Wilton voters. Despite a well-funded effort, voters rejected the vote no too low campaign and instead voted consistent with prior years, the 2018 professional survey, the 2019 POCD telephone survey and the 2022 and 2023 BOF surveys,” she said.

While 22.25% of the voters (557) did use their votes to say that the proposed budget was too high, this year’s proportion wasn’t as high as it has been in the past. Since 2000, the “No, too high” vote has ranged from 21.55% to 52.64% (the average is 32.57%) so this year’s result puts it at the lower end of that range.

There’s something to be said for 2023’s turnout rates as well. This year’s 20.59% voter turnout was the highest it’s been in 18 years. The average turnout rate since 2005 is blow 15% — 11.96% — and in the past 10 years, Wilton has only passed the 15% threshold twice.

Bonding Referendums — Especially the Artificial Turf Field

That hefty voter turnout was likely due in large part to one of the five bonding questions on the ballot, namely did voters approve of bonding $1.935 million for the planning, design, acquisition and construction of an artificial turf field at Allen’s Meadow?

This vote was exceedingly close: only 49 votes separated the 1,249 people that approve the field bonding resolution from the 1,298 people opposed to it.

And while there were organized and active campaigns underway on both sides of the question, and a great deal of attention focused on whether or not there was any environmental concern from materials used to make the artificial turf, the decision was probably influenced by how much officials were asking voters to bond. At almost $2 million, it was the largest amount on the bonding questions by far.

Credit: GOOD Morning Wilton

In her statement, Vanderslice told GMW she agreed.

“Cost was also likely the major factor in the turf field referendum result,” she said, adding, “With a close 49%/51% vote, it is incumbent on the Board of Selectmen to learn more about the no votes.”

The other questions were much more clear cut:

  • $127,000 for the construction and reconstruction of Scribner Hill Road — APPROVED 81.4% (2,008 Yes, 459 No)
  • $950,000 for a new fire engine — APPROVED 86.8% (2,183 Yes, 333 No)
  • $780,000 for the construction and installation of school district roof Replacements — APPROVED 90.6% (2,276 Yes, 237 No)
  • $275,000 for a new elevator at Cider Mill School — APPROVED 85.7% (2,150 Yes, 358 No)

Read more of our coverage of the budget vote breaking news from Saturday, May 6 after polls closed, including reactions and comments from town leaders.

3 replies on “With Large Voter Turnout, Wilton Overwhelmingly Approves FY’24 Budget, Narrowly Defeats New Turf Field”

  1. this has nothing to do with the money that defeated the bond referendum. It was the the young and old who have read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson and who practice “Earth Day” every day.

    Kevin Hickey

  2. It should be crystal clear to everyone in Wilton, that at least 4 of the 6 members of the Board of Finance strongly support and vote based upon the wishes of the majority of Wilton voters. As Lynne pointed out, we had survey after survey, performed by different organizations, and prior votes, all clearly indicating that the wishes of the majority were to keep funding great schools and town services at prudent expense levels. A vocal and small minority, presented no data whatsoever at town meetings but instead used inflammatory language (“disgust”?) to support their views that Wilton was underspending relative to surrounding towns. All data points in the opposite direction; that Wilton has been spending more per student than many surrounding towns, and those towns have great schools which are higher ranked in academic performance than Wilton, including Darien, and New Canaan. Perhaps it is time for the BOF to provide, and GMW to print detailed data so that some of the ridiculous empty “data free” claims of this active and vocal minority have an opportunity to supply their data to support their claims, including the claim that the majority of the BOF can’t be trusted to vote the wishes of the majority which is clearly inaccurate and an insult to the integrity of hard working volunteers, including three Republicans and one Democrat. For years, the local DTC has repeatedly offered no data supporting their claim that taxes and spending are too low, and that Wilton residents are “willing” to pay more for even better schools. By a margin of 5 to 1 on this week’s vote we have yet another data point that that claim by the DTC is wrong, no matter how many DTC members speak at town meetings deriding the BOF majority vote as “disgusting” while offering no data, no town survey, or town vote results to support their words that it is they who support the views of the majority of the electorate; they don’t. I don’t like Donald Trump either, and I abhor the justices who overturned Roe v Wade, but that doesn’t mean that I would blindly agree that we needed to raise taxes in Wilton this year by 5-6% to achieve excellence. It should t be a political party issue. The DTC also didn’t mention that their leadership in Hartford took away enormous amounts of grants to Wilton for next year which was previously used to add headcount at the BOE, while student population was decreasing during the pandemic. People were misled into thinking that the BOF “cut” the funding for those resources while in fact it was your friendly Democratic Party. They said the funding was no longer needed in Wilton and other “Rich towns”. They also didn’t mention that they want higher real estate taxes from Wilton taxpayers, so that their leaders in Hartford can push the cost of the significantly unfunded and mismanaged Hartford run Teachers’ pension plan to Wilton and other “rich towns”. Wilton constituents may not share that sentiment. Write and call your local elected representative, Ceci Maher and Keith Denning and ask them what they are doing to protect our funding and fight against this threat of pushing pension expenses to Wilton. Ask them why funding to Wilton schools was taken away and redirected, and why they haven’t done anything to support keeping that state funding, like many other school districts. Is it because everyone in Wilton is so rich per their definition?
    The next diversion to take your eye off the fact that the local DTC initiative to raise your local property taxes failed because you voted against it five to one, is the new culprit, the town charter. For the record, I am in absolute agreement with Steve Hudspeth, we should be able to vote as a democracy to increase or decrease our taxes, and I look forward to working with Steve and the RTC and DTC to achieve the support of our local elected representatives both in Wilton and in Hartford. Consistent with Steve’s argument, the fact that we need to lodge our say in Democracy in Wilton with only two representatives is absurd. Give us the democracy and the ability in Connecticut to vote for higher or lower state taxes. The status quo is not Democracy. Maybe everyone in Wilton can discuss whether we trust our elected officials to execute on the wishes of the majority in Wilton, just as that vocal minority did here during the budget vote, only in this case the stakes are much higher.

  3. I don’t know where the prior writer is getting his facts regarding the DTC. The DTC took no formal position regarding the town budget or on any of the bonding matters this year. Nor did the DTC organize any campaigns one way or the other. In fact, we had mixed views internally about the turf field, and the Democratic Chair of the Board of Education (a DTC member) loudly encouraged people to vote in favor of the proposed budget even after it was cut by the Board of Finance (see her letter in Good Morning Wilton).

    Next year Wilton’s teachers will receive a 4% union-negotiated raise, yet the school budget increase is only 2.89%. Each year that we fail to keep pace with inflation or neighboring towns is cumulative and becomes more concerning over time.

    The Town Meeting vote provides a lot to think about. The “No, too low” vote was dramatically higher than any year in memory. One could fairly point out that they still lost, but it would be foolhardy to ignore that the protest vote was literally 10 times higher than the average over the last two decades. Or that the “No, too high” vote was the lowest it’s been in the last two decades. And many more would have joined the too-low protest, except they were concerned that returning the budget to the Board of Finance would have risked even further cuts.

    Tom Dubin,
    Chair, Wilton DTC

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