As we close 2022, I take this opportunity to review our many Town departments and the services they provide for the community, and then reflect on our accomplishments that all of us who live in wonderful Woodbridge have made TOGETHER.
Our annual budget reflects our shared values and is a balancing act of our commitment to provide excellent education for our children and show our respect to taxpayers by carefully budgeting for responsible spending on services.
We have, and always will, place a high value on public education of our Town’s children both at the Beecher Road School for Pre-K through six, and at the Amity Regional District #5 for grades 7 through 12. Our budget continues to fund the resources that are necessary to ensure the outstanding quality of our school programs and support the teachers and staff members at Beecher. At Amity Middle School Bethany and Amity High School, the Town continues to work with the District to also ensure that all necessary resources provide for the superb educational opportunities we want, and need, for our students there. Furthermore, the Town and Beecher administration continue to collaborate to consolidate services and find ways to share costs. We are always looking carefully at additional ways to save taxpayer money while maintaining top quality, locally-controlled, educational services to all Woodbridge children. I am proud that despite our sometimes-different viewpoints we have always worked together amicably. I thank both Boards of Education for working so hard to achieve what is best for our students and our taxpayers.
Our many wonderful Town departments all make Woodbridge a special place to live. Our volunteer Fire Department responds to calls for service, 24/7/365. They respond to fire calls, severe weather calls, hazardous condition calls, welfare check and service calls, and rescue and emergency services incidents. In addition to this important service, these volunteers put on tremendous community events such as “Truck or Treat”. They also provide fire education at our schools, train volunteers to properly install car seats, hold a toy drive for Christmas and host Santa and Mrs. Claus every year at the firehouse.
The Public Works Department consists of three sections – Highway/Parks, Building Maintenance, and Waste Management. The Highway Department maintains 78 miles of roads including paving, plowing, storm drains, street lighting, line striping and tree management. This past year they concentrated on removing problematic trees. Building Maintenance oversees the maintenance, operation, and security of all Town buildings and sidewalks and handles set-up and breakdown for Town meetings and all our Town events. Our Waste Management team runs our Transfer Station.
Our Police Department is also a 24/7/365 operation. They respond to car accidents, and calls for medical assistance, and answer all residents’ calls for different kinds of assistance, and alarms. The Woodbridge Police also sponsor a “Fill a Cruiser” to help families with toys at Christmas, volunteer at Senior Center luncheons, and participate in Special Olympics fundraisers. Two officers are assigned full-time to our local schools and Officer Lynch runs a DARE program at Beecher Road School. Our department also has trained accident re-constructionists and one State of Connecticut certified drug recognition expert.
The Woodbridge Human Services Department provides social services, senior services, and youth services. Some examples of the social services they provide include health and wellness checks (including pandemic assistance), client advocacy programs including fuel assistance, VITA tax assistance, and food pantry coordination. The Woodbridge Senior Center offers senior services including a transportation program, meal distribution program, health and wellness education programs, as well as social and hobby classes. Additionally, the Youth Services Bureau offers positive youth development programming including evening and after school programs, baby-sitting training, Home Alone class, internet safety training, job bank, and community service opportunities for Woodbridge students.
The Woodbridge Town Library exists to serve the informative, intellectual, cultural, and leisure needs of the Woodbridge community. The library typically offers hundreds of programs a year ranging from story times, craft programs, lectures and concerts. The library also provides technical help to Woodbridge residents. Our library remains a vital part of the heart of our Town Center.
Our Recreation Department provides adult and youth programs, a variety of summer camps and maintains facilities including bocce, shuffleboard, pickle-ball, tennis courts, and manages the use of Town recreational fields. The department also offers swimming lessons, yoga for adults, and a volleyball league. They organize the beloved summer concert series, the annual road race, and the Logan Testa Kids’ Triathlon.
To address our future, I have focused on funding quality of life improvements without increasing the taxpayer burden. This year I have secured more than $3.5 million in grant funding, which includes $2 million to renovate the old firehouse, $425,000 for Senior Center renovations, and $600,000 for sidewalks and pedestrian improvements in the Town Center. Additionally, Woodbridge was recently awarded a $500,000 STEAP grant (Small Town Economic Assistance Program) to renovate the Center Gym and nearby restroom facilities.
As you all know, the old firehouse building was damaged in a fire in 2006. Using insurance proceeds and an earlier STEAP Grant, we completed design neutral, necessary upgrades to the building including a new roof and upgraded mechanicals. The additional two-million dollars in State funds for this building will finalize the project and convert the empty building into a new “Community and Cultural Center” for use by all residents, with recreation and leisure programs and room rental for community organizations and individuals. Included in the project is a new elevator making the building ADA-accessible, a small café, and a small kitchen for meeting use. The old firehouse is a beautiful building and I believe it can be a lovely “gateway” to the Town Center campus.
Construction has begun on the Woodbridge Senior Center! Woodbridge seniors will soon have a modern, fresh, welcoming, and air-conditioned space. This project is the result of years of planning and will help our seniors remain healthy and active, which of course is a critical goal for our aging population. When complete we will have a space worthy of the wonderful programming that happens inside.
Lastly, the $600,000 Department of Transportation grant will be used to install sidewalks connecting Amity Regional High School to the Town Center and to also upgrade the asphalt sidewalk that goes around the library lawn.
These many projects have “moved the needle” on our Town Center Campus beautification plan, which envisions making our Town Center a more inviting, welcoming, safe, pedestrian-friendly space. Remaining projects in the beautification plan include additional outdoor seating and upgraded signage.
This year we also finalized the Town’s first bike route paid for by a campaign of private donations matched by a grant. Thank you to all the donors. So many people made these projects possible. It has been a true community effort to make these improvements to our Town of Woodbridge.
New revenue is critical to continue to fund our high-quality education and other important and necessary Town services. Last year I created the 2030 Task Force which is charged with seeking ways to create a healthier, robust, grand list by 2030. Recently this ad hoc committee has been working diligently on a proposal that includes ideas to improve the business district. A more attractive and pedestrian friendly business district will attract more businesses and consumers. I thank the Task Force for taking on this important topic.
The State of Connecticut has set a goal that 10% of each Town’s housing be “affordable”. Currently, only 1.81% of Woodbridge qualify as affordable. It is our Town’s obligation to provide housing which is not exclusionary and is affordable. Our ad hoc Housing Opportunity Study Committee completed a plan to help us find ways to move toward that 10% benchmark. I thank the Committee for all their hard work. They have collected resident input through workshops and public forums. We will continue to work on this goal.
Woodbridge has also received $2.6 million through the Federal American Rescue Plan Act. This is a once-in-a-generation funding opportunity and I strongly believe it should be used for once in a generation transformational projects. My ideas are to use these funds to make improvements to the business district, and perhaps add a pavilion to the library lawn so that outdoor events have a covered space. I would also like to upgrade our aging playgrounds and/or make investments in the older irrigation systems at our ballfields.
We continue to see new residents moving to town, many due to, in part, the pandemic as folks seek to live in more open neighborhoods. Our ad hoc Community Council has held new resident “Welcome to Woodbridge” events to help orient new residents, answer their questions, and help them become familiar with all that Woodbridge has to offer.
In 2020, I created our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee in response to the horrific events surrounding the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. Here in Woodbridge, we held a Black Lives Matter Rally. That day in 2020 I said, “I think we have reason to hope that things will change. There is a new burst of energy, a protest movement across this country and beyond our shores, in cities and towns in all 50 states, a movement that crosses racial, ethnic, political and generational differences, a movement that binds us together by our common humanity, a movement poised to inspire new policies and new legislation. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I think Dr. King believed that the arc doesn’t bend toward justice on its own. That’s our responsibility, and that is why we are here today.” I am proud that the DEI Committee continues this movement toward justice. I thank each member of this most important group for their efforts on behalf of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We may not all agree on the best direction for our Town, but we are all sincere in our desire to make Woodbridge the best possible version of itself, and WE REMAIN STRONGER TOGETHER. I want to express my gratitude to the residents of Woodbridge who have taken the time to reach out to me by phone, text, or e-mail, or dropping by Town Hall. I have and will continue to listen to your opinions and suggestions. By working together, we can solve problems and enhance the quality of our life in Town. As your First Selectman, it has been my honor and my privilege to serve this community. I wish you all a happy, safe holiday season, and a wonderful 2023!