Wilton’s Board of Finance (BOF) called a special meeting last night, Tuesday, Feb. 28 as it prepares for the critical final steps in the FY2024 budget process.

The BOF summoned Town Counsel Ira Bloom to review the board’s mandate to recommend a town budget and the procedures it must follow in the event voters reject the budget at the Annual Town Meeting.

Such a rejection has been rare in Wilton’s modern history, but the lengthy discussion at the latest BOF meeting signals a sense of trepidation heading into the public hearings and the board’s own deliberations on the budgets proposed by the Board of Selectmen (BOS) and the Board of Education (BOE) — which both have higher year-over-year increases than historical averages.

Charter Review

The board reviewed the sections of the Town Charter governing its role in the budget process. Bloom observed the precision with which the Charter ascribes the duties of the BOF.

“The nice thing about the Wilton Charter is it really is quite specific,” Bloom said. “It does lay out everything in great detail, step by step. It does define what you should do.”

He went on to highlight a particular section of the Charter that sums up how the BOF should approach the budget deliberations:

“Following the public hearings the Board of Finance shall consider the views expressed at the public hearings, the views expressed in other communications by voters, the financial resources available to the Town, and the extent to which, in the Board of Finance’s collective judgment, the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen can find savings within their respective budget requests.(Town Charter, Article VII, Appropriations, Budgets and Finance, §C-30)

Bloom said there was no “order of priority” for the various considerations the BOF must weigh, but challenged the board to be sincere in weighing them all.

“As an elected person, you have to exercise your best judgment. Have you listened to the public, have you given consideration to [all of] those points here?” Bloom asked rhetorically.

Bloom then offered a point of view he would emphasize throughout the meeting.

“I do believe you should confine your discussions, your deliberations [and] your advocacy to your board meetings,” Bloom said. “You have a special privilege as a member of the Board of Finance that nobody else has except the six of you. It’s an important privilege.”

Board Member Communications

Bloom continued with the topic of board members’ external communications on the budget, urging them to keep their discussions within the confines of the board’s official meetings.

“Your responsibility is, when you meet as a board, to deliberate and then to vote,” he said.

“If you want to advocate something, do it during the public meetings,” Bloom advised. “Your responsibility is when you’re sitting at the board table, to voice your opinions, ask the questions, debate among yourselves. You’re part of a group. You don’t have individual powers as one, single Board of Finance member.”

BOF Vice Chair Stewart Koenigsberg questioned Bloom about whether board members have an obligation to publicize data or to engage in public discussions when they see or hear flawed data being presented. Board member Matt Raimondi also asked for clarification on that question.

For Koenigsberg, it was not a hypothetical question. He recently wrote lengthy responses to other readers’ comments on two letters to the editor in GOOD Morning Wilton (one on Feb. 1 and another on Feb. 9).

Bloom advised against it.

“Stick to your meetings,” he said.

“All your meetings are public,” Bloom continued. “You have the forum… to say whatever you need to justify your decisions. I would not engage in that kind of give-and-take through an online publication.”

Bloom says when individual board members engage in debate with the public outside of BOF meetings, it can create “confusion” as to official board positions, and can also create “dissension among board members.”

Bloom was careful to distinguish between impromptu, one-on-one conversations a board member might have with a resident, and more public comments, like social media posts, initiated by the board member.

“Other than day-to-day kind of [conversations with the public], it should be confined to the board table, so everyone on the board can hear it,” Bloom said.

“There’s no intent to muzzle anybody,” Bloom said. “To the contrary, I’m suggesting you use the vehicle you have. You have a special opportunity at the board table. You can advocate and debate and share information.”

Can the BOF Achieve Consensus?

BOF Chair Michael Kaelin seemed concerned that, like last year, the board members may have difficulty reaching unanimity or even a majority when it comes down to their vote on a budget resolution. He said Bloom’s comments should remind them of their duty.

“Each of us has a responsibility to try to come to an agreement with each other to get a budget passed,” and a divided or deadlocked vote would mean “collectively and individually, we really haven’t done our job,” Kaelin said.

“The bottom line is, you cannot leave the meeting room with a 3-3 vote,” Bloom said. “You have a [Charter] responsibility to recommend a budget to the Annual Town Meeting, and frankly, you just have to do it. If you don’t, you have not fulfilled your Charter responsibility as elected officials.”

“If you can’t agree, keep trying until you come up with something that will pass.”

Contingency Plans

The board also reviewed the Charter provisions specifically pertaining to “procedure should the budget be rejected” at the Annual Town Meeting:

“The Board of Finance shall consult with the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education and then recommend a reconsidered budget and reconsidered rate of taxation to a Reconvened Annual Town Meeting.” (Town Charter, Article VII, Appropriations, Budgets and Finance, §C-31)

Bloom briefly reviewed the details of the Reconvened Annual Town Meeting.

“It’s a step-by-step, sensible process that is laid out here [in the Charter],” Bloom said.

Survey Update

The BOF has finalized plans to survey residents for their opinions on the budget proposals and the mill rate. The survey will go live on March 6. Look for a link to the online survey in an e-alert from the Town of Wilton. Subscribe to e-alerts on the Town website.

Next Steps

The BOF has rescheduled its next meeting for March 15. Kaelin urged the public to attend or view the meeting remotely as “an excellent opportunity” to see the board discuss key details of both the BOS and BOE budget proposals ahead of the public hearings.

Public hearings will be held on March 21 for the BOS budget and March 27 for the BOE budget.

The BOF will begin its budget deliberations on April 3.

9 replies on “‘You Have a Responsibility’: Town Counsel Advises Board of Finance About Its Clear Mandate For Budget Resolution”

  1. I have to say I take great personal pride in having goaded a Republican BoF member into doing something that got him in trouble with the town counsel. (but I regret that voters will not have a chance to do anything about his behavior until 2025)

    1. So it’s ok to kick a man when he’s down. You feel very superior now? Remind me not to vote for you Mr. Love.

      1. Kick him when he’s down? Nobody made him comment, he did that to himself.

        And I’m not running for anything, but if a town board ever decided to punish me for my assorted sins by somehow appointing me to an open position I hadn’t applied for, I’d like to think I’d have the wherewithal to shut up and stop commenting on matters before that board.

      2. Kevin,
        Thanks, but no defense needed. It was my recommendation that town attorney Ira Bloom join us, primarily for his legal opinions on the process for dealing with this year’s town voting process. My previous letter addressed Mr Love’s discriminatory statements as well as inaccurate information in this publication, and that is not a matter subject to any legal interpretation. The only goading Mr Love has ever done was to appall decent people with his discriminatory comments disparaging seniors in town; democrats, republicans and independents alike, intermixed with his other significantly misleading and inaccurate information. Mr Love’s despicable comments that “seniors are over represented in town,” should move out of town, should feel guilty about their generation, don’t deserve social security paid for” by him and his other insulting comments towards this, or any group, should not be tolerated.
        I join my neighbors in condemning such discrimination, and we believe in making public discourse welcome to anyone rather than remaining silent about discrimination and allowing “desktop bullies” to intimidate our friends and neighbors.

        1. Yeah, that’s not remotely what I said.

          My information was not inaccurate (nor have you put up any real arguments against it), and my comments about “over-representation” were with regard to electoral participation specifically – seniors do in fact have more free time than parents and so get to participate in meetings / votes more, that’s not right and ought to be addressed.

          And I actually defended social security in my comment, I simply said that it was obnoxious for social security recipients to push for cutting other government programs that don’t happen to benefit their generation. Which again is a statement I will cheerfully stand by.

          As for “desktop bullying,” the impetus behind most of my GMW comments – dating back to the very first one where I called out Kim Healy for her obnoxious remarks on “mansion taxes” – is because Republicans in Wilton keep lying and dissembling and getting away with it, and Democrats are prevented from fighting back against them properly because somebody has to act like the adults in the room.

          As a left-leaning independent who’s been watching Republicans destroy this country since before I was old enough to vote, I felt like somebody had to push back against all of that lying – lying like you’re demonstrating in this very comment – and have taken it upon myself to do so.

          If people wish to condemn me or call me a bully they’re free to do so – as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not running for anything and hold no position of responsibility in Wilton – but I will continue to get down in the mud with you people for as long as I need to.

  2. I’d be really curious to see the results of the survey once complete. Not sure if this is something that will see the light of day though. Every parent that commented at the February 9th joint BOE-BOF meeting was very pro BOE budget, and I suspect that the majority of the town would be willing to make the sacrifice needed to support the BOE’s higher needs in a time of inflation. I hope that the BOF truly takes the preferences of the people of this town into account, and is not coming at this from a pre-determined position.

  3. There is no natural law that states that more money yields a better education. If that existed, New York City would have one of the best education systems in the country and the USA (which spends more money per pupil than any other nation on earth) would be ranked #1 in the world. It’s simply not true.

    Has the school system shown that its spending is as efficient as possible? Are there truly no areas where we can make cuts that don’t impact learning outcomes?

    Budgeting should not be started from last year and a % increase or decrease applied. Budgeting should start from zero and all assumptions be put on the table and questioned. Until that happens, the budget is not efficient and tax payers are having money wasted.

  4. I think it’s entirely appropriate for any board member to speak out to correct misinformation from ill informed citizens. Happens every day in all political arenas.

    The only BOF error this year was to not provide guidance to Boards and now we see the problem surface with an excessive BOE proposal. Declining enrollment should have tempered their request.

    1. I would like nothing better than to get in fights with other Republican BoF members in GMW comments, particularly when their arguments are as silly as his were. (Apparently Wilton is not a wealthy town because we haven’t yet raised $1M in donations to fund an environmental nightmare turf field)

      So yeah, by all means keep encouraging them to do that, it reflects far worse on them than it does on me; I hold no position of responsibility in Wilton and am not running for election to anything, they risk far more in these exchanges than I do.

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