Recently, Woodbridge held its Annual Town Meeting at which we present and approve the final budget for the coming year. Woodbridge maintains this great New England tradition, as required by our Charter, that gives residents the opportunity to come together and review what’s been going on in Town as well as looking to the future.
As my time as First Selectman is coming to a close, I thought it important to reflect on all that we have accomplished together in these four years since I was first elected. At that time, I identified three areas I would focus on: community and communications, energy and environment and sound budgeting.
In order to strengthen community ties, we have hosted dozens of events, lectures and meetings including the new farmers’ market, an expanded Fallapalooza festival and meetings on topics such as DOT projects and the Country Club of Woodbridge future. We created the One Book, One Town program and initiated a partnership with Long Wharf Theater (don’t forget—Woodbridge Night at Long Wharf is May 25!) and more.
Speaking of events, please remember the annual Memorial Day ceremony is Monday May 29 at 10:45 a.m. at the VFW monument in front of the Center Building, 4 Meetinghouse Lane.
We also improved our communications to spread the word about events and to keep residents informed and involved. We now have a new newsletter that is mailed to all residents’ homes, plus we have an updated website, an email newsletter and an active Facebook account.
With respect to my second goal- clean energy and environmental initiatives- here’s a sample of what we’ve accomplished: a successful solar campaign that helped dozens of residents go solar and earned free solar panels for the Town (just recently installed on the Library roof!); commencement and completion of the energy-focused renovation at Beecher Road School; and installation of the fuel cell at Amity Regional High School which will power the microgrid that is currently being installed at our town center campus. We also have two electric vehicle charging stations. Some of these efforts, along with others, earned us an Energy Star Award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency! In addition, we’ve enacted forward-thinking policies such as our organic land care policy.
My third goal was to continue our sound budgeting practices. We are regularly recognized by the national Government Finance Officers Association for the quality of our budget and the results of our independent audit. These awards are a reliable indicator of how confident our residents can be that our finances are being well managed by our Finance Director, our Board of Selectmen and our Board of Finance.
There are many ways we work to control taxes. For one, we maximize grant opportunities and conserve energy. Our Beecher Road School renovation project is a great example of both of these goals – we’ve received millions of dollars from the state in grant money and the school is now more energy efficient.
Another way to control taxes is to grow our grand list where possible. We have a very small business district in Woodbridge and approximately 90 percent of our grand list is made up of residential property. To relieve some of the burden from residents, I’ve taken a multi-pronged approach. I’ve been supporting local businesses by promoting them and organizing networking opportunities. We are also looking to enhance the business district through a wayfinding signage program, improving pedestrian and cyclist safety, reviewing zoning regulations and alleviating traffic congestion through working with the state Department of Transportation to improve the area around Exit 59.
A budget is a policy document and where your tax dollars go reflects the values of our town. For example, nearly 60 percent of our budget goes to our schools, which demonstrates how highly we value education.
Another example of a budget/policy decision was allocating the resources necessary to open the Country Club of Woodbridge pool this summer. The pool is an important community gathering place. (Memberships are available online, woodbridgect.org).
The incoming Board of Selectmen will likely decide next steps for the Country Club property. The current Board of Selectmen has decided that there is to be no golf on the property – it’s too costly and no private operators are interested. Currently, the plan is to convert the property gradually for expanded passive recreational uses, while remaining open to private sector proposals.
During my four years in office we have reached out to or followed up with more than a dozen individuals or organizations with an interest in the property. Only a handful of those submitted a proposal to the Town – three proposals were withdrawn and two didn’t have sufficient support from the Board of Selectmen to move forward.
It has been an honor serving as your First Selectman and I am proud of our accomplishments of the past four years. They are a tribute to our dedicated Town employees and generous Town volunteers. I would also like to thank our engaged Town residents for keeping the spirit of democracy alive and well in Woodbridge.
Lastly, congratulations to incoming First Selectman Beth Heller and all the men and women who have been elected to serve on our Boards and Commissions!