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From the First Selectman – 11/19/21

Woodbridge’s COVID-19 positivity rate is low enough that we are now allowing boards and commissions to meet in person if they so choose.  I know that some boards and commissions will continue to meet virtually either because of convenience or comfort levels.  Others feel strongly that they prefer to meet in person.  As a reminder, the legislature passed a bill last session that allows us to hold meetings virtually through April 2022.

Woodbridge’s COVID-19 positivity rate has been in the “yellow” category or better for four weeks in a row.  The State Department of Public Health maintains a color-coded map updated weekly showing each town’s color.  Gray is best; red is the worst.  When or if we are in the red again for three weeks in a row, I will require all meetings to once again be held virtually.  I am hopeful that does NOT happen.

Based on guidance from our health department, we continue to require face masks in all Town buildings.

At the Board of Selectmen’s November meeting we discussed an “unsafe order” that I received from Building Inspector Andy Rizzo regarding the former Country Club of Woodbridge clubhouse.  Our Building Maintenance Foreman was concerned about vandals getting into the building, so he invited Mr. Rizzo to tour the building and talk about how to make it safer.  That tour led to an unsafe order requiring that the Town either remove the building or make it safe.  By the time the Board met, Building Maintenance had already worked to secure the building, and this likely will be an ongoing effort and expense.  I want to be clear that the building is not in danger of collapsing – the danger is an unsafe situation caused by vandals breaking the doors and windows to repeatedly enter the building and cause damage.

The Board also agreed to institute a bulk trash fee, starting February 1.  The Board has been discussing the statewide looming trash crisis and how to respond.  In the next decade or so there will be a significant reduction in trash disposal capacity which will drive up costs for municipalities and their residents.

The Town’s Transfer Station has a scale which we use to charge haulers bringing in residential trash.  Starting February 1, the scale will also be used for residents and contractors bringing in “bulk” trash such as furniture and construction demolition.  That fee will be $0.10 per pound.  Currently the Town charges $20/cubic yard – in fiscal year 2021 we collected $4,511 in bulk trash fees, but paid out $69,490 to haul and dispose of bulk trash.  The new fee will help close that gap.

In addition, the Town will no longer offer free bulk trash pickup five months a year.  Starting in February there will be a fee of $50 per appointment.  That fee will partially cover the Town’s cost to run this program.

In response to the looming trash crisis the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is strongly encouraging towns to institute a program with several different names. You may see it referred to as Pay As You Throw (PAYT) Unit Based Pricing, or Save Money and Reduce Trash (SMART).

PAYT means that households are charged for the amount of waste they throw away.  This provides incentives for residents to decrease the waste they generate and increase the amount they reuse and recycle.  The State is offering grants to institute these programs and Woodbridge submitted an expression of interest to participate in a pilot.  We should know soon if we are invited to apply.

While we are always looking for ways to reduce our expenses, we really need to focus on growing the grand list.  Without new commercial buildings, more homes or both, our grand list will stay stagnant.  That is why I think the Arbor Haven proposed development for the former Country Club of Woodbridge is an important project:  It will increase our grand last by adding housing, including state-mandated affordable housing and much-desired senior housing.  Of course, that’s in addition to the $9 million purchase price.

As we move into budget season next month, it’s important to remember that education takes up approximately two-thirds of our annual operating budget.  As the school district’s budgets continue to increase without a corresponding increase in the Town’s grand list, the Town will be forced to cut services, cut education and/or raise taxes.  None of these are palatable options and I anticipate this will be a season of hard decisions.

YOU have a voice in the budget process.  Boards and commissions are beginning to discuss their budgets now.  Capital budget presentations and discussions will begin with joint meetings of the Boards of Selectmen and Finance on December 2nd and 7th, followed by operating budget presentations and discussions in late January and February.  EVERYONE is encouraged attend these meetings to understand the process and share your thoughts with board and commission members or department heads.

This year I extend wishes to you all, for a Thanksgiving full of love, happiness, and good health.  May we all be thankful for what we have, for the family we love, the friends we cherish, and for the blessings that will come.  This Thanksgiving season, I am thankful for all of you, as we worked together to keep our community safe during this dreadful pandemic.  Let us all now pause, and continue to be kind to one another, especially during this upcoming holiday season.  I remain grateful for the many opportunities we will have to continue to make Woodbridge such a wonderful and welcoming town.

As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions or comments.  You can reach me at bheller@woodbridgect.org or at 203-389-3401.

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