Priorities Taking Shape
As we head into November, there are a few big themes that are emerging in my work as your First Selectman. I’d like to share how I see the following priorities taking shape and ask you, as always, to continue providing me with your feedback and thoughts on these as well as other matters of concern to you.
Town Budget Process Begins
Our annual budget process has begun at Town Hall and in each of the departments that make up the Town budget. I met with department heads recently to set out some guidance and encouraged each of them to look for any cost-savings they might be able to suggest, as well as areas where we may be able to bring in additional revenue. We will consider all suggestions! Especially as the state budget funding situation moves toward resolution, it will be critically important that we are able to tell residents we have left no stone unturned in our search for ways to save taxpayer money.
The Board of Selectmen (BOS) will soon begin its review of the proposed budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 that will be conducted in two parts; the Capital Budget (in November and December), and the Operating Budget (in January and February). The specific dates for our budget meetings are posted on the Town website and I would like to encourage members of the public to tune-in and learn more about how the budget is set.
Road Work in Our Business District
Another major theme that is emerging is a renewed effort to transform our approach to Economic Development. Growing the grand list by adding businesses to our commercial district is, of course, crucial to easing budget pressures. This area at the border with New Haven and the exit 59 interchange with the Wilbur Cross Parkway deserves our attention, especially as the state Department of Transportation (DOT) pursues three separate road improvement projects in the vicinity.
DOT is working on a short-term, safety-oriented project that will go out to bid in January and begin construction in April 2018; a mid-term project to reconfigure the on and off-ramps to the Parkway which is still in the planning stages; and finally the major project to repair Heroes’ Tunnel. A recent DOT meeting in Hamden addressed the Heroes’ Tunnel project and I will be meeting soon with DOT officials to further discuss the project. In all this road work, we will seek opportunities to improve access to our business district while enhancing the experience of this neighborhood for both those who shop and those who live here.
Public Safety Radio System
A third major theme that is coming into focus for our Town is the need to re-invest in aging infrastructure. The BOS has had a sub-committee looking at the need for a Public Safety Radio System upgrade for some time now. It’s important to note that our current communications system had a 12- to 15-year life expectancy when it was installed in 2003. We are now at the very end of the equipment’s useful life. Furthermore, a consultant hired by the Town to help us address our Radio System needs has informed us that due to the age of the equipment replacement parts are increasingly difficult to find. This is obviously a very serious matter and the project to upgrade the system must take a high priority.
A Public Safety Simulcast Radio System consists of towers throughout town and a console that is used to send the data to these towers. It does not include the radios themselves – these devices, both handheld and in the dashboard of emergency response vehicles – are separate from the Radio System. Our current Police, Fire and EMS radio devices would continue to operate with a new Radio System.
The aim of the upgrade will be to increase the coverage and reliability of the system as well as to improve the interoperability between Police, Fire, and EMS—and to bring Public Works employees into the same system as well. This is a crucial missing link in our current system, especially during storms when Public Works trucks are out on the roads dealing with downed trees and wires as well as when snow plows are active. Improved interoperability between all departments would be critical in such emergency conditions.
It will take approximately 12 months once a replacement Radio System is approved for the equipment to be fully installed, tested and operational. If we were to approve the project in December 2017, we should expect to be able to retire the old system no sooner than December 2018. Accordingly, our Boards of Selectmen and Finance plan to meet jointly in November to receive a presentation and recommendation for action on this project. I am looking forward to working together with the membership of both Boards to see this project through to a Special Town Meeting for voter approval.
Beth Heller is Woodbridge First Selectman. She may be reached by phone at Town Hall, 203-389-3401, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.