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From the First Selectman – April 2021

As we head into Spring, and hopefully warmer weather, Town Hall remains busy with many issues and initiatives.  Most importantly, as we navigate through our COVID 19 response, we continue to work toward strengthening our community to all work together to face our upcoming challenges and opportunities.  Our Human Services Department has assisted many Woodbridge residents to get vaccinated.  Of course, we all must still to do our part to crush this horrific virus.  Please remember to always practice safe social distancing, wear a mask whenever coming in contact with others, and always wash your hands.

The Boards of Selectmen and Finance have worked diligently since last fall to finalize the proposed FY 2022 budget.  As you all know, the Town’s municipal budget represents important priorities for the coming year.  Woodbridge’s top priorities must remain 1) providing excellent schools, 2) ensuring public safety, and 3) offering all essential programs and services to our taxpayers.  It is obviously a delicate balance.  Last fall, in preparation for budget season, we directed all Town departments and Board and Commissions, as always, to be extra mindful of taxpayer dollars as they prepared their proposed budgets.  Over the past few years, we have consolidated staff positions and reduced programs.  To give additional perspective, between Fiscal Year 2015-2016 and Fiscal Year 2020-2021, the Town portion of the budget (not including the boards of education) decreased by 0.12%.

As a reminder to all residents, the completed Preliminary Budget Hearing will be held on Monday, April 19, at which time residents will be able to ask questions or make comments on every Town department’s budget requests.  The Preliminary Budget Summary will be mailed to every home in town prior to the hearing, and the Full Preliminary Budget will be posted on the Town website by the first week in April.

Each year as we convene the budget process, it becomes clearer to me that we need to grow and diversify our Grand List.  In order to continue to maintain our priorities, we must focus on growing revenue.  In the past year, I have created the “2030 Task Force” whose membership includes business and town leaders.  They have been charged with seeking ways to create a healthier, robust Grand List by 2030.  I look forward to their updates and future recommendations.

Following a February Special Meeting of the Board of Selectmen, the Board finalized the charge for the Housing Study Committee.  As a reminder, this Committee has been created in response to the Affordable Housing Zoning Application that is currently before our Town Plan and Zoning Commission.  This group of volunteers, along with a staff member from our Land Use office, and a facilitator, will evaluate the data, engage the community, assess housing needs and submit a report to the Board of Selectmen.  The membership is nearly complete, and work will begin in earnest shortly to begin to create the state-mandated Affordable Housing Plan.

Meanwhile, the Town Plan and Zoning Commission continues to work through the application, which is asking to amend the Zoning Regulations and the Town’s Plan of Conservation and Development to permit multi-family housing in most of the Town’s residential districts, with affordable housing.  You may view the application, other documents, and videos of the Public Hearings on the Town Plan & Zoning Commission page on the Town website.  I remain confident that the Zoning Commission will review the application in a fair, thorough, and thoughtful way, and continue to provide an opportunity for all sides to be heard.  I am equally confident that Woodbridge will remain the wonderful community that we have all come to love.

There remains a proposal to erect a cell tower in a residential neighborhood on Newton Road.  Verizon/Cellco has privately contracted with a Woodbridge landowner to erect a 140-foot tower in that area.  Unfortunately, cell towers are not approved or denied at the local level.  Neither the Plan and Zoning Commission, nor the Board of Selectmen, or any other land use or town agency, has any authority to approve or deny these structures.  These decisions are the exclusive jurisdiction of the State of Connecticut Siting Council.  The Board of Selectmen, in our desire to prevent this project, has however, hired a land use attorney to work with the Town to try to find an alternate site for the tower.  The Board does not believe that a cell tower should be erected in any residential neighborhood in our Town.  We also engaged an engineer who has expertise in these matters and have given him a list of alternate sites and have also asked him to review all the sites to determine their suitability for a tower.  We also directed this engineering consultant to also consider the environmental impact a cell tower might have on the area.  We await this important report.

The Board of Selectmen will continue to do all we can to oppose this project, and we welcome your support.  Should Verizon/Cellco eventually submit an application to the Siting Council regarding their current proposed location at 118 Newton Road, it will be incumbent upon all who oppose this project to submit testimony against it.  It is my hope that the Board of Selectmen will vote to do so as well.  I will continue to share updates with residents.

Currently the Board of Selectmen is exploring how to accomplish some major goals in our plan for the future, specifically finally finishing renovations at the Old Firehouse, which has been vacant and only used for storage since a fire in 2006.  We are working toward creating a beautiful, multi-purpose Community Center, completing renovations at the Senior Center and creating a sidewalk connecting the high school with the Library.  Other projects in the Beautification Plan include additional seating and signage throughout Town.  The soon-to-come bike route, which is totally paid for by a campaign of private donations matched by a grant, and planned improvements to The Grove (near the old firehouse) are also part of this vision.  Resident input from a now-closed survey on the Town website about The Grove will be used to apply for a grant, seeking additional seating options and outdoor game tables, such as chess and checkers.

Woodbridge municipal buildings will reopen to the public on Monday, April 5th.  We are all excited to welcome you back!  Town Hall will be open during the regular hours of 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.  The Library will be open for browsing 15 hours a week and the Senior Center will also be open for limited hours.  Masks and social distancing are required, of course.  Upon entry, we are asking visitors to sanitize and sign in, for contact tracing purposes.  We are also asking residents to limit their visits to 30 minutes or less, when possible.  We are keeping a close eye on the pandemic and the numbers.  I remain serious about keeping residents and staff safe.  Things seem to be improving, given the number of vaccines available and the warm weather.  If, however, the pandemic takes a turn for the worse again, due to new infectious variants or other factors, we will close our doors again.

As a reminder, the Town of Woodbridge Municipal Elections will be held on Monday, May 3rd and the Amity Regional District 5 Budget Referendum is scheduled for Wednesday, May 5th.  Absentee ballot applications are available by request at the Town Clerk’s office, (203-389-3424) or online.

Woodbridge continues to look to the future and help us all reconnect safely.  The Town is having a small Earth Day celebration on April 24th from 9 to 11 a.m. on the Library Lawn.  We are also looking for nonprofessional musicians of all genres to play informal outdoor acoustic concerts on Thursday evenings on the Library Lawn.  Those interested should complete the survey on the Town website.  Late last month, the Community Council met with community organizations to discuss how to better coordinate and market our local organizations and events.  I look forward to seeing these results and how this coordination may help our Town.

I am also excited to announce the new “Second Saturdays” series.  From May through September this year, the Town will host a free outdoor event on the second Saturday of the month during the summer.  Events will include a chalk art party, a community tag sale, Friends of the Library book sale, a game day and a craft fair.  Look for details to come soon!  In addition to events, we continue to improve our physical assets, especially those outlined in the Woodbridge Town Center Campus Beautification Plan (see the plan on the Board of Selectmen page on the Town website).  My goal is to make the Town Center Campus an inviting public gathering space that encourages residents to linger and interact, creating a stronger sense of community.  I hope that you are as excited as I am about the possibilities and opportunities the future holds for us.

Finally, I wish to address the two senseless mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado that have saddened us once again.  We cannot become inured to these tragedies and allow this to become the acceptable status quo.  One or both of these horrific events may have been motivated by hate.  The Town of Woodbridge stands with Governor Lamont in condemning “in the strongest of terms – the recent violent acts of racism and hate committed against Asian Americans that we have seen across our country.”  An attack against anyone based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference is an attack against our most fundamental values as Americans and an attack against us all.  We cannot remain silent.

As always, my door is open to you.  Please feel free as always to reach out to me at 203-389-3401 or bheller@woodbridgect.org.  Keep in touch and keep safe Woodbridge!

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