“This is the largest operating deficit in the history of the town since 1818,” said Deputy Supervisor and Town Councilman Raymond F. O’Conor at the Thursday, October 6 town board meeting. “We are [approximately] $800,000 in the hole, and I find it very concerning that we’re in the red this year and running a deficit.”
The large deficit numbers became the focus of discussions near the end of the board’s regularly scheduled meeting, following the approval of a $98,000 piece of equipment for the Highway Department, a John Deere 624K Loader critical to the town’s snow removal operations.
“The existing piece of equipment was totally unsafe and would have been unacceptable to use again. This [new piece of equipment] is an absolute necessity,” said Councilman Charles Gerber, a sentiment that was not disputed by any on the town board. But Gerber, along with the rest of his colleagues, also agreed that the record high deficit facing the town is unquestionably a cause for concern.
“While I don’t disagree that this piece of equipment is necessary,” said O’Conor, “if we allocate $1 million more in spending than we’re taking in, we have to figure out where we’re taking that money from. This type of spending is unsustainable.”
The deficit, of course, did not happen overnight. Part of the problem can be traced to less than desirable revenue rates – specifically, revenue tied to mortgage tax rates, as well as only a modest five percent increase in sales tax. While both sources of revenue were actually higher than initially projected, amendments to the budget made throughout the financial year added a greater strain on 2011 finances, accelerating the rate of spending at a quicker pace than the town’s revenue intake. Other expenses, such as the mandated eight percent of employee compensation being put toward state retirement funds and increased healthcare costs only compounded the matter.
“We spent more than we took in,” said O’Conor, summing up Wilton’s dilemma.
As Wilton looks to address the issue, the town also reviewed its tentative budget for 2012. Maintaining a town tradition, Wilton residents will pay no town tax or highway tax for the 30th year in a row. The $6.8 million proposed budget is a balanced budget.
“My goal was to provide a balanced budget, one with no new tax levies or [funding] from the town’s surplus or fund balance,” said Wilton Town Supervisor Arthur Johnson. As it now stands, the proposed general fund for the 2012 budget totals $4.1 million, while the highway general fund reached $2.7 million.
A two percent cost of living increase was budgeted for town employees, who are not expected to face any layoffs in the coming year. While spending is up 1.6 percent over last year’s budget, the amount is still five percent less (approximately $374,000) than the June 2011 amended budget.
The largest increases in spending were tied directly to state mandated costs – items the town has no say in. The town is projecting a 25 percent increase ($92,000) in contributions to the New York State retirement fund. Another 18 percent ($81,000) increase in spending is expected in health insurance costs.
While no new town or highway taxes for Wilton residents is welcomed news to most, O’Conor, who will be stepping down from his position on the town board as his term expires at the end of the year, cautioned the board that structural changes need to take place if a deficit is to be avoided in the future.
“This has never happened before,” said O’Conor, “and hopefully this will never happen again.”
The town is inviting the public to take part in their budgetary workshops, where they will go over the proposed budget in detail. The first workshop is scheduled to take place October 18 beginning at 1 p.m., followed by another workshop on October 20 beginning at 10 a.m. An additional workshop will be held October 21 if necessary. All workshops will be held at the Wilton Town Hall in the conference room. For more information, visit www.townofwilton.com, or call Jeff Reale at (518) 587-1939 ext. 217.