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From the First Selectman – January 2022

We begin the new year by celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 17th.  This year, I am reminded that this holiday is a time to reflect on all that Dr. King accomplished.  As he once stated, “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 remains our responsibility, and why we must continue to discuss local issues related to inclusion and diversity in Woodbridge.  I am proud to have initiated the Ad Hoc Diversity & Inclusion Committee, which is a committed group of our residents who are exploring how to identify and prioritize issues relating to diversity and inclusion, so that all Woodbridge residents feel at home and welcome to participate in civic life.  As Dr. King also wrote in his April 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  We must keep this in mind as we remain united in making Woodbridge a wonderful welcoming community.

Unfortunately, we are still in the grip of the almost two-year long pandemic.  In order to protect all Woodbridge residents and others who work, visit, shop and enjoy many of our activities here, on January 4th, I signed an emergency order requiring everyone to wear masks at all indoor establishments, workplaces and public meeting spaces – effective on Monday, January 10, 2022.  This order will remain in place until further notice.  It is the right thing to do to keep the Town of Woodbridge safe.  Masks, social distancing, vaccines and tests are the simple steps we need to continue to take to keep ourselves and our community safe.  You may read the full order on the Town website.

Thank you to our Human Services Department staff, our Police Department members, and our all-volunteer members of our Fire Department for managing the distribution of the Town’s COVID-19 at-home test kits.  This was a very well organized, efficient drive up effort.  Originally, the Town had expected to receive 1,100 test kits from the State.  This was already a small number for our roughly 9,000 residents, and yet to my dismay, we only received 675 kits.  Each kit contained two tests.  The kits were distributed just hours after the Town received them on an incredibly cold day.  Days later, the Town received a much smaller set of test kits along with N95 masks, and those were also distributed.

We did not get enough test kits for everyone in town and, therefore, asked that people only come for a kit if they were symptomatic, had direct contact with a COVID-19 positive person, or were in regular contact with someone who is more susceptible to becoming infected.  Additionally, our Human Services Department was able to identify more than 100 of their clients who are considered most vulnerable, and those residents received a test kit and a few masks.  The Town also shared N95 masks with staff at the Amity Regional School District, the Woodbridge School District, Ezra Academy, local Day Care Centers, and Town staff.

I would urge everyone to please take advantage of the widespread availability of FREE vaccines and boosters, especially given the quick spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.  You may find vaccines and tests by visiting www.ct.gov/coronavirus.  Masks continue to be required at all times in Town buildings, all town meetings remain virtual, and in-person programming has been scaled back significantly to curb the spread of disease, and help to continue to keep our community safe.

Now that we are in our budget season, I once again remind everyone that education expenses take up approximately two-thirds of the Town’s annual operating budget.  As the school districts’ budgets continue to increase without a corresponding increase in the Town’s grand list, the Town may be forced to reduce services and/or raise taxes.  It will be up to the Boards of Finance and Selectmen to make these hard choices.  I expect this will be a tough year.  Over the past several 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%.

Please remember that ALL RESIDENTS have a voice in the budget process.  Operating Budget presentations will begin in late January and February to the Boards of Finance and Selectmen, and then discussions will begin.  Residents are encouraged to ask any budget questions, or make suggestions to boards and commissions, or department heads.  Budget meetings can be watched live on Channel 79, Webex and the WGATV YouTube page.  Links to the meetings are in the meeting agenda notices.  Videos of meetings that have occurred can be found as recorded written minutes on the Town website, and also on YouTube.  Our 2030 Task Force has been tasked with finding ways to grow the grand list.  It is currently focusing on the business district and are looking into working with a planning consultant to identify the goals for the area and next steps based on those recommendations.

Our ad hoc appointed 2021 Housing Committee is working diligently on the Town’s Affordable Housing Plan.  I believe it will release a Woodbridge-specific survey to supplement the regional survey published by SCRCOG.  We are also planning to offer a town public hearing at some point to listen to our residents’ thoughts and ideas.  Hopefully this plan will help us find ways to meet our state and federal mandated obligations regarding affordable housing.

Beginning on February 1st, there will be a new fee system for bulk trash.  Bulk trash is large items such as furniture and construction demolition.  The Town’s Transfer Station has a scale which is used to charge haulers bringing in residential trash.  Also, starting on February 1, the scale will be used for residents and contractors bringing in bulk trash items.  That fee will be $0.10 per pound.  Cash is not accepted at the Transfer Station.

This modified fee is one way for the Town to prepare for a difficult fiscal future by shifting the cost of the service to those who use it rather than have all residents subsidize it.  Currently the Town charges $20/cubic yard, but the Town is charged by the ton, to dispose of trash.  In fiscal year 2021 the Town collected $4,511 in bulk trash fees, but paid out $69,490 to haul and dispose of bulk trash.  The new fee will help to offset the Town’s costs.  Additionally, the Town will continue to offer bulk trash pickup five months a year by appointment, but with a fee.  Starting on February 1 there will be a $50 per appointment fee.  That fee will partially cover the Town’s cost to run this program including staff time and disposal costs.

I remain hopeful that we will get through this pandemic together.  We must be kind to one another, and continue to help our neighbors.  As always, please feel free to contact me with questions or comments.  I can be reached at 203-389-3401 or bheller@woodbridgect.org.

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