The Woodbridge Board of Finance at its May 19 meeting set a mill rate of 43.77 for real estate and personal property for the Fiscal Year starting on July 1, to pay for an expenditure package of $53,824,129. The budget includes a 5.51% increase for the Woodbridge Board of Education, a 5.66% increase for the Amity Board of Education and a 2.42% increase in the town’s expenses.
The state legislature meanwhile has capped the mill rate for motor vehicle taxes statewide at 32.46 in an effort to equalize the charges among the different municipalities. It has promised the towns with a higher mill rate a transition grant to make up for the lost income. Woodbridge will receive $1 million to at least partially make up for the difference of $1.3million. Because of that shortfall the new mill rate is somewhat higher than what was first published (43.77 rather than 43.49)
For an average home assessed at $287,000, the 43.77 mill rate would result in an increase in real estate taxes, but a decrease in motor vehicle taxes, said Town Finance Director Anthony Genovese. He calculated the total tax burden to be approximately $13,489 for the real estate and motor vehicle taxes combined.
The operating budget also includes just over $1 million in capital projects, including, among other projects, funds for the renovation of the former Boy Scout Room in the Center Building ($11,000) ; folding chair replacement ($5,000); also $130K for dispatch renovations and $35,000 for removal of an underground oil tank; for the Fire Department $175,528 towards Engine 3 replacement; $19,000 for a thermal imaging camera; $50K for network upgrades at the police station; $46,124 for a sidewalk snow removal machine; $331K for road construction/paving (combined with LOCIP funds and added funds from the capital reserve , the town plans to spend a total of $680,000 on road construction).
During the Annual Town Meeting First Selectman Beth Heller also pointed out that the town has received over $3 million in grant funding for projects that have been planned for a long time. In particular she mentioned $425,000 in grants for the Senior Center renovation; $2 million in state bonding to convert the old firehouse into a community center; and $600,000 to construct a sidewalk from the high school to the town center and to repair the walkway around the library lawn.
These projects “go a long way” towards implementing the town center beautification plan, she said. Other projects that remain to be tackled are additional outdoor seating, updated signage and improvements to police department quarters and the rest of the Center Building.
She said the town had received $2.3 million through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the town has yet to determine where those funds will be best spent. She named five projects that have come to the fore, namely improvements to the business district, additional ventilation at the Center Building; a pavilion on the library lawn for outdoor programming; upgrades to ageing playgrounds and an irrigation system for the ballfields.
Heller said once the Board of Selectmen has adopted a strategic plan, it will investigate whether any of the suggested projects can be accomplished with ARPA funds, and at that point ask the public for feedback.
Strategic plan: At the Annual Meeting, Selectmen Sheila McCreven and David Vogel jointly introduced a draft strategic plan which a subcommittee of the Board of Selectmen had been working on, in conjunction with Town Finance Director Anthony Genovese and Administrative Assistant Betsy Yagla. The plan pinpoints the “most important and pressing issues facing the town in coming years,” with their focus on the 2022-23 fiscal year.
At the top of the list is the task to “ensure the financial stability of the town,” said David Vogel. “That is our top priority.” To do so will require new ideas to diversify the Grand List, by finding ways to support local businesses and attract new ones. He also said the town needs to do a better job at educating taxpayers about the town’s finances.
Determining the future of the former Country Club of Woodbridge property also was part of that strategic plan, but as a priority under the goal of “investing in and maintaining infrastructure and facilities.” The speakers did not suggest how that should be accomplished.
The plan also includes renovations of municipal buildings and grounds, including the Senior Center and Old Firehouse. It also suggests to begin discussion regarding the renovations of the center building, which would include the police station; and to think about the Town Hall building, which is over 100 years old and has its own needs.
Another category the plan touches on is how to “enhance the quality of life” – challenging the town to think about “services and resources that allow people to thrive,” and to explore potential efficiencies, such as between the Human Services Department, the Town Library, the Recreation Department, etc. The plan encourages the town to think about ways to improve parks and playgrounds; create pathways to allow residents to enjoy the outdoors safely (such as walking and biking); and to coordinate community events for people to come together and opportunities to embrace diversity.
McCreven encouraged those in the audience to provide feedback on these points. “We’re keen to hear from everyone,” she said.
Former First Selectman Amey Marrella did step to the podium and encouraged town leaders to get a lot more input from town residents. “For at least 21 years since I’ve been first selectman it’s been the goal of the town to diversify the Grand List,” she said. “The big question is how?”
“You need to have more opportunities and an invitation for public discussion,” she said. “You can have a SWOT analysis opportunity (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), a tool often used to build a business strategy. “If you build it up (with input from the public) you might do a better job of figuring out how to actually achieve those goals,” she said.
Bob McSherry, who had moved to Woodbridge eight years ago from Bethany, noted that houses in his neighborhood had been flipped repeatedly since he moved here. “What makes Bethany special is that the old-timers are still there, because they can afford to stay there,” he said.
That prompted Dr. Alan Davidson to speak up for his town. “I’m 85 and I am still here,” he said. “And I love this town.”
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent