The bigger story to come out of Saturday’s Annual Town Vote on the proposed budget for Wilton’s Fiscal Year 2022 isn’t whether or not it passed.
What’s more newsworthy is that more votes have been cast for a Wilton High School sports team in the first 15 hours of this week’s Ruden Report “Team of the Week” vote than people who turned out for the vote on the town’s financial future.
Only 4.23% of Wilton’s eligible voters (531 out of 12,547) cast a vote Saturday, May 15, on the proposed budget and bonding questions (including 39 people by absentee ballot). As of 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 16, there were 541 votes in support of the undefeated WHS boys track team.
According to Board of Finance chair Jeffrey Rutishauser, it was the lowest voter turnout in 25 years.
With far less than the required 15% voter turnout, the proposed budget automatically passed, regardless of the actual votes that were cast: Approve–415; No, too high–114; No, too low–0.
That means the proposed FY’22 operating budget of $128,788,862 to run the town and the schools for FY2022–a 1.21% increase ($1.5 million) over FY’21–passed. The mill rate will increase 1.48%.
Even though voter turnout was at a 25-year record low, this year’s percentage of voters who cast ballots to approve the budget (78.4%) was remarkably high. This year’s approval percentage was second only to 1999, the year with a record-high approval vote (82%) in the same 25-year period. Interestingly, more than 25% of Wilton’s eligible voters turned out to vote that year.
The five individual bonding questions for 2021 also all passed–although these didn’t require a turnout threshold but actually passed on the actual vote.
- Road Restoration/paving: Yes–482, No–44
- Bridge Replacement: Yes–474, No–50
- Aerial Fire Truck Replacement: Yes–435, No–88
- Middlebrook Tennis Courts Replacement: Yes–379, No–144
- School District Roof Replacement: Yes–464, No–62
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice chose to look for the silver lining in the town residents’ apathy, saying she was “obviously” pleased with the voters’ response to the proposed budget and bonding referendums.
“Town department heads and the school administration put forth well-thought-out and responsible budgets, and just as we did last year, the three boards [Selectmen, Education, and Finance] worked together collaboratively to bring a reasonable budget and mill rate to the voters,” she said.
Vanderslice provided context for what she believed made the budget most appealing to voters, and successful.
“Next year’s Town operating budget is less than our FY2019 operating budget. Think about that. The consumer price index is up almost 7% from three years ago, but the BOS approved budget is less than three years ago! That is a major accomplishment and is the result of department heads’ and employees’ willingness to look critically at how we deliver services, embrace change and think creatively,” she said, adding that she was really proud of the Town staff.
She theorized that despite low voter participation, Wilton residents are confident in their local leadership.
“Of course residents have been overloaded due to the pandemic, but I also expect most Wilton residents appreciate that their FY2022 taxes will continue to be lower than their FY2020 taxes. Last year’s 3.77% tax decrease had a significant impact, not only on taxpayers‘ bills but also on their confidence in their local government’s decision making,” she said
As Wilton’s Promoter-in-Chief, Vanderslice summed up her positive take with a brag about how the town has fared since the uncertainty of the pandemic first hit.
“Overall as a community, we have done well and the future looks bright. We have the highest vaccination rates in Fairfield County [see slide from Ridgefield COVID Taskforce, below]. Developers and homebuyers are investing in Wilton. It’s a beautiful time of year to be living in Wilton and enjoying its natural beauty,” she said.