Budget time is here again. Given the fact that that Wilton property taxes have increased at a rate of 2x the Cost Of Living (COLA) in the last 11 years, it is imperative that we all stand up and say enough is enough. The chart below shows some key measures of growth for Wilton. You can see that educational expenses have grown over 2.9x COLA, and continues to grow in spite of the fact that school enrollments are declining.
This year, the Board of Finance (BoF) gave the Board of Education a guidance number of a reduction of -1.25%. I encourage all of you to contact the BoF showing your support for the reduction. We expect a significant reduction in State aid and will have increased costs due to the Miller-Driscoll bonding. We cannot afford any increase in our mil rate. The email for the BoF is email@example.com .
To view the data supporting the above statements, go to: Key measures growth
The Miller-Driscoll project is an excellent example of what can happen when Town officials do not perform due diligence and use unsubstantiated claims to promote a capital project or budget.
The most egregious factor in this example is the use of deceptive projected Pre-K enrollment numbers, resulting in:
- False information presented to the BOE, BOS, MDBC and public.
- False information used to promote a $50M capital project.
- False information used to design the MD renovation.
- False information used in the town’s bond prospectus.
It has become obvious, even to town officials, that the enrollment estimates given were wildly inflated. Wilton is currently constructing a school that will have classrooms that will be empty, excess offices for staff that will not be needed and excess costs in the design due to these unrealistic enrollment estimates. In the last few weeks the First Selectman has expressed her concern based on more realistic enrollment projections and the BOE has admitted that Pre-K Special Education has dropped way below what has been provided in various budgets.
To see the full report: PreK Enrollment Deception
The world has changed, Wilton must also
Wilton is currently on a fiscal path that is having a significant negative impact on its citizens. Wilton has become uncompetitive with neighboring towns due to high taxes, which has depressed housing prices, caused businesses to leave, and discouraged new families from choosing. Wilton.Supporting documentation for these facts (as of Oct 2015) can be found at: WiltonQuick facts Final
- Wilton median home prices have not recovered from highs. Neighboring towns have done much better (Source: Zillow). Compared to 2006/2007 peak.
- Darien 100%
- Westport 95%
- Wilton 83%
- Fairfield County losing wealthier potential buyers
- UBS significant downsizing in Stamford
- RBS significant downsizing in Stamford
- GE considering leaving Fairfield
- Significant losses for many current sellers will affect comparables
- Spending per person currently 4th highest in State
- Growth in spending from 1996 to 2012, 3rd highest in State
- Wilton Debt per Capita $3289 in 2013 18th highest in State. After MD and Comstock Debt per Capita will approximately double and move Wilton to #1.
- Cost escalated from $5M in 2006 to currently $50.2M
- Enrollments have dropped by double digits and are projected by the state to drop by triple digits during the next 5 – 10 years
- MD renovation design does not incorporate the significant declining enrollment. This disregard of enrollment projections from multiple private and state experts has led to a plan to demolish existing usable facilities and build new unneeded new classrooms.
- Project as configured will result in empty classrooms for years to come. CT expects to lose population and 150 school districts are expected to have significantly lower enrollments. In 2025 Wilton Public Schools’ enrollment is projected to be 37% lower than in 2015.
SensibleWilton (SW) has raised these concerns but has been rebuffed by the Board of Selectmen, , Miller Driscoll Building Committee and Board of Finance. Nevertheless, our message has been heard by Wilton voters and every candidate for Wilton offices this election has acknowledged that high taxes and their consequences are key issues. SW will continue to be vigilant and work to ensure these issues are acted upon post election.
The renovation of Miller-Driscoll School has been a topic of discussion and study by multiple steering committees, town boards, architects and contractors since 2006, with concerns about the need for additional pre-school space dating back to 2004.
The project has been part of the town’s Bonded Capital Projects plan since budget preparation in 2005, yet the expansion was not made a priority by the BOS and maintenance was continually deferred as well. This gross mismanagement has resulted in worsening conditions at the school with not only the severity of the deferred maintenance increasing year after year, but the cost as well, due to the significant delay in addressing both the needed repairs and the project as a whole.
The current Miller-Driscoll Building Committee was appointed by the Board of Selectmen in February 2013, held its first meeting May 3, 2013 and at their June 3, 2013 meeting were told that “Due to cost escalation from the time of the 2011 $29M estimate to the start of construction, [First Selectman] Bill Brennan had authorized the Building Committee to use $32M-$35M as the project cost for RFP purposes.”
The MDBC subsequently executed a renovation plan that has become the most expensive bonded capital project in Wilton’s history, exceeding the amount authorized at the outset of the project by $15M-$18M.
cost escalation chart w detail – md-PROJECT
At the BOS meeting to consider a revote based on the petition submitted by Sensible Wilton, the Board of Selectmen rejected the request. If you were unable to attend, a video of the meeting can be seen at:
If you are mainly interested in audience comments they start at minute 38.
For those who spoke in favor of the revote and had documents supporting their position, we have posted them here so you would have the benefit of seeing exactly what was presented to help you make an informed decision on Sensible Wilton’s request for a revote.
Documentation in support of the comments made at the BOS meeting
- Alex Ruskewich – President of Sensible Wilton – illegal activities in conduct of referendum Ruskewich talking points
- Curt Noel – Treasurer – Sensible Wilton
- CodeRed could have been used to increase voter turnout
- Sensible Wilton originally pointed out that the makeup of Miller-Driscoll Building Committee did not meet the requirements for membership stated in the Capital Bonded Projects Process approved by the Board of Selectmen. More recently Sensible Wilton discovered that language in the Capital Bonded Projects Process concerning who can be appointed as a member on Town committees comes directly from the highlighted sections of the Town Charter. Town Charter Prohibitions
- Marianne Gustafson – resident discussed how the Miller-Driscoll Building committee specifically targeted only a subset of the community in providing information without allowing opponents a chance to provide their views .. in violation of State law.
In 2007 the Board of Selectman developed a written process to ensure that all capital bonding projects would follow a logical process to ensure that standard accepted accounting procedures would be followed.
The expectation as stated by the First Selectman in his 2008 State of the Town message:
“This written process outlines the sequence of events and approvals required to take a major construction project from concept to completion. Existing projects have been integrated into the new system with the assistance of the Council on Public Facilities. I believe the development of a formal process, guidelines if you will, to more effectively manage the Town and Board of Education’s capital projects, will prove over the long term to have been a major accomplishment”.
In 2011 the above process was incorporated, by reference into:
again reaffirming it’s importance.
This process was not followed in the development of the Miller-Driscoll school renovation project and was declared as “abandoned”.
Sensible Wilton believes it is important that our auditors be made aware Wilton’s not following its own written processes and the failure to follow accepted accounting principles.
In September 2012 an architectural firm was commissioned to do a study of the “Building Envelope” of the Miller-Driscoll school. To view the report see:
Building Envelope Hoffman
This report estimated that the cost to address immediate needs was $495,000. The report specifically excluded an evaluation of the roof and the HVAC system.
Since we believe the MD referendum was not conducted according to CT law, we filed a complaint with the State Election Enforcement Committee (SEEC) which agreed unanimously to investigate.
We subsequently submitted the following addendum’s:
After reviewing the State law on referendums, we realized that the promotional brochure produced by the Building Committee was never approved in accordance with the law. The brochure which cost over $12,000 was used extensively to justify the MD project and never met the requirement for neutrality.
As we continued to collect evidence of failure follow the State referendum law, we were directed to the following Cider Mill Web site by a concerned citizen. We then submitted this information to the SEEC as an addition to our complaint showing illegal advocacy, illegal use of school/town assets and targeting to a specific audience …parents.