As January dawns, our Town’s annual budget setting process for the 2018-2019 fiscal year is in full swing, and we are also mid-way through our current fiscal year that ends June 30th. This gives us a good vantage point to look back on where we have been, as we also look forward to where we are going in the near future. By continuing to work TOGETHER on behalf of all Woodbridge residents, I am confident that our Town government – our volunteer board and commission members, as well as our dedicated Town employees – can assure that the coming year will be the best yet for our Town.
Exploring New Ways to Save Money ― Throughout my first six months as Woodbridge First Selectman, I have been hearing from residents and staff with an array of ideas that deserve attention and might save taxpayer money. They range from big initiatives to smaller steps that take us more gradually in new directions. Some ideas are complex and will take time to develop into initiatives ready for action in the coming budget year, but others are already making their way through a process that promises immediate savings for this fiscal year.
We know that making some structural changes to the way we budget will have lasting impact, more than just a one-time savings. Shared Service Agreements are one example. By embarking on a new initiative to share Information Technology (IT) services rather than having multiple contracts with different service providers to cover individual departments, we can eliminate redundancy and maximize the value we get from each dollar spent because services will be more easily coordinated and we will also benefit from an economy of scale. In addition, we can begin with agreements that cover just one or two departments, and then plan to expand service sharing as we go along to incorporate other departments into an existing agreement.
In pursuing such opportunities for shared IT services, we have engaged in dialog with the Amity Regional School District and will receive a presentation from them at our January 10th Board of Selectmen meeting. I will update you as we take next steps.
Other examples of potential shared services include purchasing and leasing agreements (such as for copiers and office supplies), facility management and building maintenance functions between the Town and school districts, and partnering with additional municipalities as part of our existing joint agreement to provide animal care and shelter services for Woodbridge, Bethany and Seymour.
Sustainability and Savings Go Hand-In-Hand ― Another area I am exploring is greater energy efficiency and other initiatives that promise to have positive environmental impact as well as potential cost savings. Did you know that we currently pay about $76 per ton for disposal and hauling of garbage leaving the Woodbridge Transfer Station? Think of the impact – both on the budget and on our environment – of reducing that, while increasing our collective recycling rate? The recently created Sustainability Ad Hoc Committee, chaired by Jon Gorham, will be exploring options and helping us tackle this challenge, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about this soon.
Economic Development Planning ― In addition to saving money on the expenditure side of the budget, I have also been focusing my attention on efforts to grow the Grand List to improve the balance between residential and business property tax income. As you may know, in Woodbridge we have very little commercial and business property compared to housing and residential property. This makes Woodbridge relatively unique in our area, and much of this is due to the way our Town developed over the decades since the invention of the automobile made our hills and valleys more accessible.
The area of our Town that was most easy to get to, at the border with New Haven and surrounding what became the Wilbur Cross Parkway entrance and exits, has seen the most commercial and business use. At the same time, this area attracted many families who have called this area home for generations. In our efforts to enhance economic development, we must take into consideration the needs of both the business community and the residents. By tuning-in to concerns and listening carefully, I believe we can succeed in balancing business growth with quality of life enhancements that will continue to ensure that our Town remains an attractive place to live and raise a family.
I will share more details with you soon on these and other initiatives and I ask, as always, that you continue to share your ideas and suggestions with me.
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.