As the budget planning process for FISCAL YEAR 2023 continues to unfold, officials accept some harsh realities that include, on the one hand, several pressing needs for facility repairs and other capital expenditure projects at Wilton schools (particularly Middlebrook school and Wilton High School) and, on the other hand, mounting budget pressures and potential mill rate increases that seem likely to be reaching a tipping point for many Wilton ratepayers.
This was the main takeaway from a meeting of three councils Monday evening February 28convened by officials representing Wilton’s Breeders Council (BOS), Finance Council (BOF) and Board of Education (BOE).
The meeting, which took place in person at Comstock Community Centerwas recorded on video, but unfortunately did not capture any sound. HELLO Wilton contacted the leaders of the three councils for their evaluations of the meeting.
Validation of short-term needs
In preparation for the discussion portion of the meeting, members of the three councils visited Middlebrook and WHS to see first-hand the current conditions of the facilities.
The tour also included the Cider schoolwhich served as an example of repairs and renovations already completed, unlike those carried over to Middlebrook and WHS.
The three councils agreed that the projects proposed in the Budget 2023 – ranging from asbestos removal, lighting updates, ceiling tile replacement, moisture mitigation, painting, and elevator replacements – are actually needed in the short term.
FRO President Michael Kaelin summarized its needs assessment.
“All of this needs to be done, and on a short-term schedule,” Kaelin said. GWM. “These are not discretionary things, they are necessities.”
Implications for BOE’s capital budget
Vanderslice noted that the cost of the various projects could not be bonded and would have to be funded from the BOE’s operating budget. In total, the BOE has identified more than $5 million working capital requirements over the next five years.
Based on past cost estimates, the most immediate BOE projects at Middlebrook and WHS would amount to $458,000 — and possibly more, as some estimates were made some time ago.
Updating three elevators would be a top priority, due to related building code changes, at a total cost of over $700,000 over the next three years. A WHS elevator would be budgeted for FY2023 ($203,000on the basis of a Jan 2022 estimate), followed by a second lift at Cider Mill at FISCAL YEAR 2024 and the third to the central district office in FISCAL YEAR 2025.
A similar stepwise approach has been described for $2.6 million in other projects at WHS and near $2 million at Middlebrook over the next three to five years.
Beyond the WHS lift, alone $255,000 for the projects at Middlebrook would be scheduled for fiscal year 2023.
Kevin Smith, Superintendent of Wilton Public Schools told the boards that he would consider stretching some projects even further, up to seven years.
Beyond the FY2023 Budget
BOE Deborah Low Chair called the Feb. 28 meeting a “helpful and collaborative discussion,” but concerns about budgets beyond fiscal year 2023 appear to be mounting.
Vanderslice said GWM the February 28 meeting revealed that the BOE FISCAL YEAR 2024 projected demand for working capital of $1.7 million would cause a 1.5% increase in the mill rate. Adding to this pressure, Vanderslice is also forecasting higher than usual budget increases this year due to inflation – impacting both the BOS and BOE budgets – resulting in what it believes to be an “unacceptable increase » taxes for Wilton residents.
Vanderslice also pointed out that 2023 will be a year of reassessment for owners.
“Residential values are expected to rise and commercial values to fall, which means a shift from commercial ratepayers to residential ratepayers, which means an even greater impact on most residential ratepayers,” Vanderslice said. GWM.
She noted that commercial property currently makes up 20% of the city’s big listing.
Vanderslice said the tri-council meeting highlighted what she thinks will be “tough decisions” for BOF for this year and next year, acknowledging that BOF will have to weigh identified budget needs against what the residents say they want and are willing to assume the resulting property tax burden.
Vanderslice pointed out that residents have come to expect lean budgets and small (if any) rate-per-mille increases, but refrained from saying what she thinks the tipping point of the rate per thousand could be.
“That’s our job on the finance board,” Kaelin said. GWM. “We have to deliberate on all of this. We won’t make any decisions until we all talk about it. »
Kaelin said the BOF was just beginning its deliberations on the budget requests submitted by both the BOS and the BOE for the 2023 fiscal year.
“We have to look at everything in the Board of Selectmen’s budget, everything in the Board of Ed. budget, look at all of our sources of income and then decide what we collectively [as a board] think we can afford and what taxpayers are going to pay,” Kaelin said.
“It hasn’t been done yet, and it’s not supposed to be done yet,” Kaelin continued, recalling that the public hearings on the two budgets (BOE budget on March 23 and BOS budget on March 24) have not yet taken place.
Although the BOF has no authority over the BOE’s budget, it does have the power to tell the BOE what budget funds it can use. Kaelin said GWM he did not rule out asking the BOE for cuts in other areas of the budget to offset some of the operating capital expenditure.
“We may have to cut something else from the budget,” Kaelin said. “We have to look at everything and prioritize. It’s really what [the BOF] is asked to do.
The next regular FRO meeting is scheduled for tuesday march 8followed by a special meeting to review the BOS budget on March 15.