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From the First Selectman – February 2022

Happy belated Lunar New Year!  February is Black History Month, and I am proud that Woodbridge is becoming more diverse.  I am also pleased that the ad hoc Diversity & Inclusion Committee is finding wonderful ways to celebrate and embrace this.  The committee invites all residents to participate in a new initiative, “Mosaic:  Woodbridge Reading in Community.”  The first (remote) discussion will be on February 24 at 7 pm regarding The1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones.  The discussion will be led by Woodbridge resident Reverend Antona Brent Smith.  More details, including the link to participate in this virtual event, are available on the Town website and Facebook page.

February also brings our budget preparation season.  The Boards of Selectmen and Finance have received capital and operating budget requests from all Town departments, boards and commissions, and will now begin the process of preparing the budget for the preliminary budget hearing, where residents are once again strongly encouraged to participate in the budget process, either by attending any meetings (which remain virtual due to COVID), asking questions of any board or commission member, and, of course, bringing your ideas and suggestions forward.  In late February, the Board of Selectmen will meet and make recommendations to the Board of Finance on the preliminary budget.  In early March, the Board of Finance will then begin its deliberation process and make the final recommendations for the Preliminary Budget Hearing on Monday, April 18.

It is very easy to keep up with the process.  These meetings are televised and available to watch on YouTube.  Links to join virtual meetings can be found in meeting agendas, and meeting minutes include links to the video.  If you have ideas or suggestions, please don’t wait until May to make your voice heard.  Now is the time!

If you have been following our many budget meetings, you are certainly aware that we will be facing some tough financial decisions.  Education costs make up two thirds of the Town’s budget.  From 2016 to 2022 Town services increased by 3.04% total while at the same time Amity Regional Board of Education increased by 20.5% and the Woodbridge Board of Education grew by 15.32%.  Our schools excel at providing the finest education for our children, but unfortunately at a high cost.

If we fund the current requested budget from all town departments and the requested increase from the Woodbridge Board of Education (now at 9.2% and Amity at 6.63% for Woodbridge’s portion based on enrollment) the Town’s mill rate will go up by 8.3%.  This is unsustainable.

Education is the reason many of us moved to Woodbridge and we must continue to treat it like the priority it is.  However, funding education at this level will mean that sooner or later we must cut other important services and/or accept larger tax increases or find a way to increase the Town’s grand list to pay for it.

Our budget problems are a direct result of the Town’s stagnant grand list.  This year’s grand list grew by 1.7% and is the first time in 10 years that the grand list has grown by more than 0.8%.  This year’s growth is primarily due to the increase in value of motor vehicles.  This growth, or lack thereof, does not even keep up with inflation.  That is why I remain in favor of selling 100 acres of the former Country Club of Woodbridge for $9 million to developers Arbor Haven.  This proposed sale is not a panacea, but it would be a major step toward improving the Town’s fiscal future.

At the January Board of Selectmen meeting, following an executive session, the Board voted to pursue Arbor Haven’s proposal, and to deny the Land Trust and Parks Association proposal to purchase a conservation easement on 140 of the 150 aces for $250,000.

The former Country Club is a beautiful parcel of land and I understand residents’ emotional attachment to keeping it as it is.  I moved here almost thirty years ago for the schools and the open spaces.  I love the many open spaces and trails and parks we have.  However, we must be realistic.  Selling a conservation easement for $250,000 and forever preventing development there is irresponsible while we are entertaining a $9 million offer for the same parcel.  The offer from Arbor Haven contemplates development on 100 acres of the 155 total acres, leaving 50 or so acres for recreational use or perhaps a solar farm.  We face serious budget issues in the coming year.  The Board of Selectmen, at the very least, has an obligation to let voters decide on the $9 million project at a referendum.

Additionally, we must recognize that our housing stock needs to diversify.  This project will attract and retain young residents, and downsizing residents (such as over 55 folks), who want to remain in town but in smaller, less expensive homes, as well as encouraging lower-income residents to move here.  The Arbor Haven proposal includes a mix of housing styles and sizes and addresses all of these issues and still sets aside 50 acres for Town use.

Our ad hoc Housing Opportunity Study Committee is working diligently on the Town’s Affordable Housing Plan and has just released a Woodbridge-specific survey to supplement the regional survey published by SCRCOG last fall.  This survey is another tool to help us find ways to meet our state and federally-mandated obligations regarding affordable housing.  You can take the survey on the Town website.  Please share your opinion.

To protect Woodbridge residents and others who work, visit, shop and enjoy many of our activities in town, I signed an Emergency Order in January, requiring everyone wear masks at all indoor establishments, workplaces and public meeting spaces.  Mid-month I will review all the data and decide if it is safe to rescind the requirement.  You may read the full order on the Town website.

Statewide, and locally, the COVID-19 positivity rate is coming down dramatically – though it is still significantly higher than it was pre-Omicron.  Masks, social distancing, vaccines and tests are the simple steps we need to continue to take to keep ourselves and our community safe.  I urge everyone to take advantage of FREE vaccines and boosters.  Quinnipiack Valley Health District has been holding weekly vaccination clinics and you may find other vaccine clinics and COVID-19 tests by visiting ct.gov/coronavirus.  Human Services (203-389-3429) can also help residents with testing and vaccine referrals.

Woodbridge residents who are elderly, vulnerable or disabled and those with non-licensed childcare (a child taken care of by a family member or nanny, but not at a licensed daycare center) may call to request a COVID-19 at-home test kit through the Human Services office at 203-389-3429.  Human Services also has N95 masks available for residents.  No walk-ins available; residents MUST call ahead.  Proof of residency required.  Curbside-pickup only with appointment.

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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