Wilton budget up; articles questioned

WILTON – The town’s proposed operating budget is up about 2.4 percent and stirred little comment from about 20 people who attended the public budget hearing on Feb. 1. However, some of the proposed warrant articles were questioned at some length, and three of them were tabled until the Budget Committee’s next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 16. Budget Committee Chairman Cary Hughes moderated the hearing. Continued for discussion because more information was wanted were the hiring of a town administrator, replacing the heating system in Town Hall with a wood pellet furnace and placing 50 percent of the land use change tax in a land acquisition fund.

The major change in the operating budget is a newly adopted wage and pay scale. Previously, committee member Harry Dailey said, there was a long discussion every year as to what percentage raise everyone would get. The committee appointed to study the matter "came up with a wage and a job description for all the town employees," plus an evaluation system, he said.

Every employee now fits into a scale, and increases are determined by evaluation. "It should avoid future long discussions between selectmen and budget committee," Dailey said. Other increases include replacing carpeting at the police station and a pier at Goss Park that has been declared unsafe. Hughes said a committee was named to study the town administrator position and recommended that the selectmen place the question on the warrant. The selectmen was divided on the topic, he said, and the proposed article was not completed and did not contain the information that the $50,000 requested would cover only half a year.

Final wording will be provided before the next meeting. Several people, including members of the Fire Department, objected to a wood pellet system for Town Hall. Alison Meltzer, of the Energy Committee said, "The heating delivery system needs to be upgraded," and that they weren’t committed to wood pellets.

Dailey said they had looked into wood pellets while rebuilding the elementary school last year and decided "it would take up too much space and require too much maintenance." Jim Cutler, of the Fire Department, also spoke against it. "We have had several pellet stove fires in town," he said. "They were not properly maintained." The system requires electricity to operate, and Town Hall doesn’t have a backup generator. "Who will run down here in the middle of the night to turn it off," if the power goes out, he said.

Former Selectman Dan Donovan, who is again seeking the office, said he also had concerns, and noted the plan to renovate the west end of the hall. The two projects should be considered together, he said. The question of using part of the land use change tax to fund Conservation Commission projects has been discussed several times in the past. Dailey asked for a plan for the money. Commission member Bart Hunter said it has been prepared and will be made available. Selectman Bill Condra spoke against the idea, as he has in the past.

"Current use is a deferred tax plan, an incentive for landowners to not develop their land," he said. "When it is taken out of current use, the taxes come due. That money should go to the town." The commission should come to Town Meeting with its projects, he said. Hunter argued that the Conservation Commission needs a fund in order to take advantage of land sales "in between town meetings."

Approved requests were $27,000 for a design study for renovation of the west end of Town Hall, the purchase of a backhoe for the Highway Department, a new police cruiser and the repair of the King Brook Road bridge. The Recycling Center’s Capital Reserve Fund would be changed to a revolving fund. Some years’ sales of recyclables are down, as this year is.

Placing the funds in the revolving account would allow use of funds in a good year to offset a poor one. Revenue for 2015 was about $75,000. A request for $150,000 for the Fire Department Vehicle Equipment Capital Reserve Fund was approved. "The fire truck is only 53 years old," Hughes said, "and may need to be replaced." Traditional Town Meeting is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 10, in the Florence Rideout School gymnasium.