This year’s budget process has been quite challenging. As a town, Woodbridge is at a crossroads. If all department, board and commission budget requests are granted for next fiscal year, our mil rate will be close to 50, which is not acceptable.
The Board of Finance asked that this year’s budget requests should be as close to a zero percent increase as reasonably possible. Currently, the Woodbridge Board of Education is requesting an approximately 9% increase which would require a major tax increase. The Boards of Finance and Education are working together to find ways to lower that request without harming the quality of education.
For a historical perspective, from 2016 to 2022 (6 years), the Town portion of the budget increased by 3.04% while the Amity Regional Board of Education budget increased by 20.5%, and the Woodbridge Board of Education budget by 15.32%. Clearly, Woodbridge supports our schools and education. I believe Woodbridge residents want to continue supporting education, but not to the detriment of other services.
If there is no compromise, the Board of Finance would be put in a terrible position: They could raise taxes significantly to meet the school’s request. They could cut the Beecher budget and create only a slight increase in taxes. Or they could make major cuts to the Town’s budget (close the Library and the Senior Center, for example or not pave roads or cancel most Recreation programming) to not raise taxes and give the school boards their request.
None of these are palatable. These options pit parents and education advocates against the rest of the taxpayers who don’t have children in the public school system.
I encourage residents to pay careful attention to the budget process and voice their opinions. The most effective way for you to share your opinion and/or ask questions is at the Monday, April 18 Preliminary Budget Hearing when the Board of Finance presents its proposed budget. Following this hearing the Board of Finance may make changes to its proposed budget which is then presented at the Annual Town Meeting in May.
Our budget crisis is caused by a long-term revenue problem. If we do not grow our grand list soon, we will continue to face increasingly difficult budget decisions.
The grand list in Woodbridge, our main source of revenue, grew by only 1.7% over the past year. This is the first time in 10 years that it has grown by more than 0.8%. This year’s growth is primarily due to the increase in the value of motor vehicles. This lack of meaningful growth does not even keep up with inflation. New revenue is critical to fund our high-quality education and other important Town services. The Town could grow its grand list by expanding the commercial district and also offering new and diverse housing.
The 2030 Task Force, charged with growing our grand list, has referred a proposal to the Board of Selectmen to help with our business district. I am excited to learn more about it and how it could help us bring more vitality and more businesses to the area.
Simultaneously, the Housing Opportunity Study Committee just finished a survey of residents and will soon report to the Board of Selectmen with its suggestions on how to diversity the Town’s housing options.
The State has established a benchmark which requires 10% of all housing in each municipality be affordable. Currently, only 1.18 percent of Woodbridge homes qualify. It is our Town’s legal obligation to provide housing which is not exclusionary and is affordable.
Last year, the Town’s zoning laws were challenged. The application implied that our regulations were exclusionary, resulting in a lack of diversity in our population. Our Town Plan and Zoning commissioners did a thoughtful and excellent job balancing the need to provide multi-family and affordable housing with environmental concerns. Woodbridge Zoning Regulations now allow multiple housing units in residential areas, and more density is allowed in areas with sewer and public water.
The former Country Club of Woodbridge (CCW) property is the largest tract of developable land owned by the Town that meets the above criteria, and it would be wrong to dismiss out of hand a proposal that includes affordable housing. It is important to recognize that Woodbridge, along with most municipalities in Connecticut, face legal obligations to encourage this type of housing in residential areas. We cannot ignore this issue. We must act.
I remain committed to controlling the development of the property and letting voters decide this issue at a town-wide referendum. We MUST act on our own, and avoid having development forced upon us through legal action.
The Board of Selectmen is considering a proposal from Arbor Haven to purchase approximately 100 of the 150 acres at the CCW for $9 million. The proposal includes building a mixture of housing, some affordable, some over 55, and some single-family homes. All will be for sale, with no rental properties. We currently owe approximately $3.7 million on the 2008 original purchase price of almost $7 million. The Town has 10 more years of debt payments. The $9 million purchase price will fully pay off the remaining debt, and leave over $5 million for Town services, including education. We are also contemplating a solar farm on part of the property.
Some claim that more housing will attract more school-age children. Smaller “starter” homes, typically, do not bring in many children. There may be some increase in school children, but that is good—more families and more growth! These homes will also be attractive to empty nesters. Our Town’s residents are older than the State average, and we should provide appropriate housing opportunities for our older population, and also create housing options to attract younger residents. Most importantly, THE TOWN will control development. I believe that the Board of Selectmen has an obligation to let voters decide on the issue at a referendum.
As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions or comments. You can reach me at email@example.com or at 203-389-3401.
—First Selectman Beth Heller