Wilton budget may grow

WILTON – The proposed town operating budget is up about 4.3 percent, and a variety of capital projects bring the total to about 10.7 percent.

Since the selectmen haven’t yet made decisions concerning the use of town surplus, they didn’t offer how it would affect the tax rate.

About 20 people attended a hearing on the budget on Wednesday, Feb. 15, in the Fire Station meeting room. Budget Committee Chairman Cary Hughes led the PowerPoint discussion, which featured a pie chart of each department showing the percentage of the use of funds for each function, such as wages and repairs.

“It’s been a challenging year,” Hughes said, and he thanked his committee and town officials for the help they provided. “A lot of people worked on these numbers.”

Several numbers were changed during the meeting as final numbers were presented.

One large increase is $48,000 for computer support in the town office.

“We don’t have a good email platform,” said Town Administrator Scott Butcher, which he said makes answering Right to Know requests difficult.

“We also need to upgrade our credit card processing capability” and move to a .gov domain, he said.

The upgrades would include the Police Department.

In looking at ambulance options, Hughes said, “We decided to go with the part-time paramedics” rather than hiring another full-time person, an increase of about $30,000.

Completing the renovations of Town Hall is estimated at $300,000.

“The hall is on the National Register, and it is important to maintain it,” Selectman Kermit Williams said. “The rest of the building has been renovated over the past 15 years.

“We need more room for meetings. There are lots of good reasons to do it,” including an upgrade of the heating system and adding storage.

A recent break in a pipe caused considerable damage to the Planning Board storage area.

Resident Tom Schultz didn’t dispute the need, but questioned the timing and why a previously planned new entrance ramp wasn’t included in the new plan.

Williams said last year’s Town Meeting approved money for the design, “and we paid a contractor to do up to the pre-bid point, so we’ve already spent considerable money.”

As for the new ramp, Williams said the town had voted $9,000 for plans, but that the bids came in high.

“Personally,” he said, “I don’t like the design, and have a number of issues with it.”

He mentioned a long ramp, the loss of several parking spaces along the wall and possibly changing the crosswalk. The original idea also included an electric door opener.

“We need to rethink it,” Williams said.

A request for $42,450 for development of the area around the Police Station into a riverwalk prompted considerable debate, including the parking spaces that are owned by the Wilton Falls Building. While all speakers liked the plan, several concerns were raised, including removal of snow and who would maintain it.

The Economic Development Committee, promoter of the plan, will meet with Steve Elliott, director of Public Works, before Town Meeting to find some answers. It was noted that few people would use it in the winter.

Funds would come from the Cooley Park Capital Reserve Fund.

A request for $7,000 for a planning charrette also raised some questions, particularly why this new project when the town supports the Main Street Association. Hughes said they were separate projects.

Establishing a fund for future replacement of the highway garage was discussed briefly, since it is for “sometime in the future,” Williams said, “and is potentially a very expensive project,” especially if a new building is placed on a new site.

Town Meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 16, at Florence Rideout Elementary School.