We are reaching the final stage of our budget process; the Annual Town Meeting on Monday May 16th at 7:30 PM at the Center Gym (4 Meetinghouse Lane). The process began nearly eight months ago when our Town departments and volunteer commission members began working on the 2016-17 fiscal year budget which runs from July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017.
This bottom up, collaborative start of the process provides a solid foundation for the work of the Boards of Selectmen and Finance that follows. This year, the Board of Selectmen reviewed and reduced the total Department requests and unanimously recommended a revised budget to the Board of Finance. The Board of Finance further analyzed competing needs and anticipated income and reduced the original department requests further – from an original requested increase of nearly 7% to under 3%.
Four principles guide my approach to the budget: 1) controlling taxes to assure residents they are paying no more than necessary for the services they expect and value; 2) maximizing efficiencies; 3) maintaining and enhancing Town services; and 4) continuing the highest levels of fiscal stewardship and accountability.
Certain challenges we faced in preparing the budget this year arose from matters beyond the control of the Town. First, the State’s financial difficulties have resulted in a reduction in our State revenues and creates uncertainty about the amount and timing of future payments.
Second, education spending (which accounts for 60% of our budget) is on the rise. At Beecher Road School, special education costs are going up. At Amity, the number of Woodbridge students enrolled has increased while the number of Orange and Bethany students has declined. This resulted in an increase in our share of the Amity budget of nearly $800,000.
The third challenge is entirely new. A new state law mandates that mill rates on motor vehicles be capped at 32 mills (meaning you would pay $32 for every $1000 of assessed value). For towns like Woodbridge with a mill rate above 32, that means the Town will collect less in car taxes, and therefore needs to raise more from real estate taxes. For that reason, the Board of Finance’s recommended real estate mill rate is 39.02. If there were no motor vehicle tax cap the Town’s proposed mill rate would be 38.69. At this time, we expect the State to reimburse the Town for most, but not all, of the lost motor vehicle tax revenue.
To learn more about these issues you can view the Preliminary Budget Presentation on the Town’s website (www.woodbridgect.org) under “Finance Department.”
In addition to the Annual Town Meeting on May 16, other important events to keep in mind include: Restaurants and retail representatives are invited to a meeting with the First Selectman at Town Hall on May 18; the Country Club of Woodbridge Pool will open Memorial Day weekend; the annual Memorial Day Ceremony will be May 30 at 10:45 AM in front of the Center Building; and on June 4 the Town and Coachman Square are co-sponsoring a Business Expo at Coachman Square.
For more details on these events and more, sign up for the Town’s email newsletter at tinyurl.com/WoodbridgeEnews.