First Selectman Beth Heller is hoping to help shape two long-standing projects for the town of Woodbridge, as she is starting her second term.
The first point of order is to negotiate a development project with local developer Brian St. Pierre to help move forward the long-debated future of the Country Club of Woodbridge. Heller is hopeful that her administration will come to an agreement with St. Pierre with regards to the former Country Club, a deal she hopes will gain the approval of townspeople, who ultimately have to agree to a sale of the public land.
The Board of Selectmen, in a special meeting on June 4, chose to move forward with the St. Pierre proposal, one of two developers who had expressed an interest in developing about a third of the property for 55+ active senior housing. [See separate article.]
Heller said once the details have been worked out, she would schedule a special town meeting/hearing, where residents can get all their questions answered and express their opinions on the proposal. It would then be continued to a referendum, possibly sometime in September or October.
Old Firehouse Renovations: In the meantime, the town will begin renovations at the old firehouse, which is unfinished inside, and has been used for storage. The town has a $500,000 state grant at its disposal, that will expire at the end of this year. The grant has already been extended once before. The funds need to be spent by the end of 2019 in order to be reimbursed, said the town’s Finance Director, Anthony Genovese. Bids went out earlier this month and were due June 21, he said.
The plan is to work on improvements that are not related to any specific use of the facility, such as a sprinkler system and parts of the heating and cooling system. Potential uses include room for a meeting space/fitness room/exhibition space for historical artifacts. The town has also been talking to the Amity district about renting the upstairs rooms for their Transition Program.
The red-brick building at the intersection of Center and Newton roads was damaged in a fire in 2006. The town has used the insurance proceeds to repair the envelope.
Economic Development: Heller wants to put increased emphasis on economic development, so as to help stabilize the tax base. She has put Administrative Assistant Betsy Yagla in charge of economic development, which gives the corresponding commission a point person at town hall.
As a first step Yagla has been reaching out to local business owners to find out what their needs are. The recommendation among economic development professionals is not so much to strive to increase the number of businesses, but to make sure that the existing businesses have what they need to thrive, she said.
With the support of EDC/REX in New Haven, a regional development agency, Yagla has developed a brochure that markets Woodbridge trails in conjunction with farm stands and lists restaurants, retail establishments and recreational facilities.
Budget Savings: Heller is very aware that the tax rate in Woodbridge is high. In conjunction with the Board of Finance and town employees, she has been keeping an eye out for possible savings without cutting services. “We are looking for a better way of delivering town services without adding cost,” she said.
One way to achieve that is by decreasing payroll, preferably by attrition. Thus, both the Finance Department and the library and Recreation departments were able to save in this year’s budget by consolidating duties or cutting hours. At the Transfer Station the town has been installing a large scale which will enable it to bill trash haulers for the amount of trash they bring in by weight. At the same time, they will be able to weigh what’s going out, in order to control what they are being billed for.
The town also has been cooperating with the Amity Information Technology department to develop a plan for servers, equipment and service needs.
Town Center Plan: Heller is hoping that the Town Center Beautification plan will move forward with public/private participation. Arden’s Garden, sponsored by the family of the late Arden Gordon on the green across from Town Hall, saw its first spring bloom and received a lot of compliments. Individuals or businesses are invited to sponsor additional benches and trees through online forms that are available on the town’s website, http://www.woodbridgect.org/. Heller said when she arrived at the office that morning, she saw people out in the grove eating their breakfast at the picnic tables while enjoying a sparkling spring day. “That was exactly what I had envisioned,” for the center of town, she said.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent