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From the First Selectman – May 2022

As we do in Woodbridge every spring, ALL residents are invited (and encouraged) to attend the Town’s Annual Meeting on Monday May 16 at 7:30 pm at the Amity High School Auditorium. This large space has excellent ventilation, and we thank the Amity Administration for allowing us use of this facility so we might have this most important meeting, and keep folks safe as we do so.

The development and approval of our budget is a structured process defined in the Town Charter.  The process extends over more than six months and involves all Town departments, and four other Town boards – the Board of Selectmen (BOS), the Woodbridge and Amity Boards of Education, and the Board of Finance (BOF). The planning activity peaks at the end of March. The proposed budget includes the Town’s fiscal year which runs from the coming July 1 through June 30 of the following year. The BOS recommend a budget to the BOF who then develop our preliminary budget. Our Preliminary Budget Hearing was held on April 18th. Everyone in town was invited to participate, ask questions and make comments on the proposed budget.

At the Annual Town Meeting, residents are again encouraged to ask questions, and make further comments on the annual Town’s budget for Fiscal Year 2023. You may view all the details of the proposed budget on the Finance Department page of the Town website (www.woodbridgect.org).  I encourage everyone to participate.

Woodbridge’s annual budget reflects our shared values and is a balancing act of our commitments to provide excellent education for our children and show our respect to taxpayers by careful budgeting and responsible spending on essential Town services.

The Operating Budget is developed by the Boards of Selectmen and Finance in a series of meetings in January and February, with input from all Town departments. The Amity and Beecher budgets are developed by the Boards of Education. A proposed budget comes directly to the Board of Finance after approval by the Selectmen.

Our Town also prepares a debt service budget which covers the annual costs of interest and repayment of principal on the Town’s outstanding borrowings. Our annual Capital Budget encompasses spending for equipment and major infrastructure maintenance needs that typically have an expected useful life of five years or more.  The Capital Budget includes items ranging from new trucks for the highway or fire department, road and sidewalk projects, and major building repairs.

Please take the time to view the Town’s new interactive online budget tool on the Town website. Visit the Finance Department’s page on the website to learn more about the Town’s budget priorities, process and history.

Our continued budget challenges stem from a lack of long-term revenue growth. Expenses continue to grow, yet our grand list remains stagnant, coming from decisions made over many, many years to restrict residential and commercial zoning and to conserve open space, which has left us little room for growth. According to our Town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, 25% of the Town’s land area (more than 3,000 acres!) is protected open space and there is another 1,500 acres of open land.

This year was the first year in a decade that our grand list grew by more than 1%. New and diverse tax revenue remains critical to continue to fund our second to none, high-quality education, and other important Town services.

The 2030 Task Force is about to begin working with a consultant to do “placemaking” work in our business district. The goal is to make the area more attractive and pedestrian friendly.  I am hopeful these recommendations will attract more businesses. Once the Task Force has developed various ideas, they will hold a community meeting and ask for resident feedback.

Quite soon I anticipate receiving a draft of the Affordable Housing Plan from Our Ad Hoc Housing Opportunity Study Committee. The committee asked, and the BOS agreed, to put the discussion about development at the former Country Club of Woodbridge on hold until the plan is finalized. As a result, Arbor Haven has withdrawn their proposal but indicated they are considering to resubmit after the Town drafts and releases a request for proposals for the property.

The State of Connecticut established a benchmark for each municipality to have 10% of their housing be “affordable.” Currently, only 1.18 percent of Woodbridge homes qualify as affordable. It is important for Woodbridge to provide housing which is not exclusionary and is affordable. New and diverse housing will help grow the Town’s grand list and it is quite simply the right thing to do.

Our Board of Selectmen Strategic Plan subcommittee (Sheila McCreven and David Vogel) is hard at work outlining the Board’s priorities for the future. I anticipate sharing a draft plan at the Annual Town Meeting. This plan may also direct some of our spending priorities for the $2.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding the Town will received. The Board will come up with a list of potential projects and ask the public for feedback before making final decisions.

I would like to see an HVAC system in the Center Building Gym which will allow us to safely and comfortably resume holding large community gatherings in that space. ARPA is a once-in-a-generation funding opportunity, and I strongly believe it should be used for once-in-a-generation, transformational projects.

In addition to adding ventilation, I would also like to use ARPA funding to add a pavilion to the Library lawn so that outdoor events have a covered space, and I would also like to upgrade our aging playgrounds and/or make investments to the aging irrigation systems at our ballfields. This funding should be used to improve ALL residents’ quality of life.

I have been focusing on funding quality-of-life improvements without increasing the tax burden. This year I have secured more than $3 million in State grant funding — $2 million to renovate the Old Firehouse, $425,000 total for the Senior Center renovations and $600,000 for sidewalks and pedestrian improvements in the Town Center!

The Old Firehouse is the gateway to our Town Center Campus but it has been used for storage since a fire in 2006. The $2 million in State funds will convert the empty building shell into a Community Center for use by all residents with recreation and leisure programs.

I am also hopeful that construction will begin this summer on renovations to the Woodbridge Senior Center. This project is a result of years of planning and will help our seniors remain healthy and engaged, which is a critical goal for our aging population.

We also earned a nearly $600,000 Department of Transportation grant to install sidewalks connecting Amity Regional High School to the Town Center and to upgrade the asphalt sidewalk that goes around the library lawn.

These physical improvements combined with our successful community events will make our Town Center Campus the beautiful, welcoming, safe and pedestrian-friendly space that our residents want and deserve.

We have three exciting events coming up: On May 14th, the ad hoc Community Council is hosting a bike ride to celebrate the Town’s new bike route. The ad hoc Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is continuing their discussion series, “Mosaic: Woodbridge Reading Together,” with a book discussion on Thursday May 26 at 7 pm regarding “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning.” We will also hold our beautiful, annual Memorial Day ceremony, led by veteran Dr. Barry Josephs, on May 30 at 11 am at the Veterans Memorial on the Town Green.  I hope to see you at these wonderful events!

Recently, the Town held our second annual Earth Day event where we recycled mattresses, clothing, electronics and craft supplies. We also hosted a tag sale, food truck, clothing swap, Rid Litter Day, Friends of the Library book sale and informational tables from local organizations. This fun community event, organized by the Town’s ad hoc Community Council, brought together residents in our Town center. In addition to building community at the event, we also assisted residents to divert unwanted items from the waste stream.

The heavier our trash is, the more we pay to dispose of it. We are working now to divert waste in preparation of these increases.

Recently we applied for a State grant that will help us institute a pilot program to further reduce household waste. If we are awarded the grant, the Town will invite interested residents to opt-in to a program that limits the number of trash bags residents can use and will include curbside food waste pickup. Other towns that have tried this program have seen significant savings due to a reduction in resident trash.

Take time to get out and enjoy springtime in our beautiful Town, and as always, if you have questions or concerns please reach out to me. You may reach me at bheller@woodbridgect.org or 203-389-3401.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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