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From the First Selectman – November 2021

The Town of Woodbridge has received two proposals from developers interested in purchasing land at the former Country Club of Woodbridge property.  One is on hold, per the developer, and the other, from Arbor Haven, was presented to the public at an informational forum in September.  The Arbor Haven team is now in the process of presenting its proposal to Town Boards and Commissions for discussion and suggestions.

The Arbor Haven proposal offers a $9 million purchase price for 100 acres of the former Country Club of Woodbridge and leaves the remaining 50 acres in Town ownership.  They propose to build and sell approximately 140 homes on the 100 acres.  Various home styles and sizes will be offered, including large single-family homes along Johnson and Ansonia Roads, moderate sized homes, affordable homes and age-restricted (over 55 senior) homes.  Arbor Haven also offered to demolish the deteriorating clubhouse, create a Town pool, a park, walk/bike paths, rehabilitate the tennis and volleyball courts for town use, while saving as many trees as possible as they build.

I think this proposal is an important step toward two housing goals of mine:  moving forward to begin to provide state-mandated affordable housing in town, and creating much-desired senior housing.  The purchase price would eliminate our remaining debt on the property of around $3.5 million, and also provide funds the town could use for other projects and operating expenses.  As the new homes are built, the Town will receive additional income from the property taxes we collect.  Our grand list will grow, which will stabilize our mill rate, and potentially lower taxes.

One legitimate concern that has been raised during these presentations is what effect this project might have on our schools.  It’s not as simple as saying the school budget is $X so if you divide X by the number of kids it costs Y to add another student.  Some items in the schools’ budgets are not directly impacted by the number of students, electricity rates and the number of support staff, for example.  The number of teaching staff may or may not be increased by new students in the school system.  Beecher Road School is not at capacity but is close, while Amity Regional District 5 has more flexibility.  This is something that the Board of Selectmen is taking seriously, and we will continue to explore.  We are planning to do an independent study of how this project might impact our schools.

The Board of Selectmen also continues to discuss the federal American Rescue Plan Act funding.  The Town is scheduled to receive a total of $2.6 million.  The funding must respond to a negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  My priority is to install an air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) system in the Center Building.  This building houses our Emergency Shelter, our Senior Center, a daycare center, Town offices, the fitness center, and the Police Department.  Our Center Building Gymnasium, is used for elections, our Town meetings, and many recreational activities, including basketball and pickleball.  Providing adequate ventilation to this building will offer important resident services, including many health and vaccination clinics.  We are also interested in improving the Grove area (the outdoor space between the Old Firehouse, the Library and the Center Building) with a covered pavilion to provide a sheltered outdoor programming space.  We also hope to improve and update playgrounds and ballfields to encourage continued use of outdoor recreational opportunities.  Most importantly we plan to look to marketing our business district and holding events there to bring in more visitors to our wonderful Town.  Before the Board makes any decision on how to use these funds, we need to gather more information on how to most efficiently add ventilation to the Center Building since that will most likely be the most expensive project on our list.  As we learn more, we will keep you informed.

Because of the pandemic and lack of ventilation in the Center Gym we will not hold our annual Veterans’ Day Ceremony this year.  I am hopeful that we can hold an outdoor Memorial Day Ceremony next spring.

I am pleased to announce that the Board of Selectmen followed the recommendation of the Human Services Commission to create a new “Residents Assistance Fund” to expand the uses of the current Food & Fuel Fund, which will help the department respond more effectively to Woodbridge residents in need.  The fund may be used for categories such as food and fuel but also may assist residents in need with emergency miscellaneous services that are necessary but are not typically funded by outside agencies.  The program is funded entirely by local donations.

Another important fund the Town relies on is “One Big Dog,” a nonprofit, named in memory of Bridget Albert, a long-time friend and supporter of our Animal Shelter.  All donations are 100% tax deductible and go directly to animal care.  Please consider donating a gift this holiday season in honor or memory of someone.  Animal Control Officer Karen Lombardi has also asked me to remind everyone that it is a dog owner’s responsibility to pick up after their dog.

We are about to enter our Town’s budget season again.  I urge all interested members of the public to attend budget meetings, in addition to individual board and commission meetings, where town department budgets are developed and then submitted to the Boards of Selectmen and Finance.  These meetings are a good opportunity to learn more about how the Town’s budget is created.  Our municipal budget reflects our Town’s priorities, which I believe are to provide excellent schools, ensure public safety, and offer essential programs and services to our taxpayers.  The budget process is always challenging.  I am confident that we will make decisions on a budget that achieves a balance between the support of valued services and tax levels that are fair and reasonable.

At this point in the process, residents who have questions or comments about any department’s budget should attend any or all board and commission meetings.  Departments submit budgets in December.  The best place for budget input is at the commission or department level.  Residents may also attend meetings in which departments present their requests to the Boards of Selectmen and Finance in December and January.  According to our Town Charter, each April, the Town holds a Preliminary Budget Hearing where the public is invited to ask questions and make comments or suggestions to the Boards, and then in May, we convene the Annual Town Meeting, where a vote occurs on the budget.

Throughout this horrific COVID pandemic over the past year and a half, I have continued to balance staff and resident safety with the ability to effectively conduct business.  Earlier in October the Town of Woodbridge instituted a vaccination policy, which covers all AFSCME bargaining unit employees and non-union employees.  We continue to negotiate with the Police Union for a vaccination policy.  Additionally, I have decided that boards and commissions may choose to return to in-person meetings, once the Town is in the “yellow” category for three straight weeks.  As a reminder, the State Department of Public Health has maintained a color-coded map of all Connecticut towns, based on that town’s COVID-19 positivity rate.  The map is updated weekly.  State law currently allows all boards and commissions to conduct meetings remotely through April 2022.

One final note … please remember to turn your clocks back one hour when Daylight Saving Time ends on Sunday, November 7, 2021, at 2:00 a.m.  As you set the new time, I would also remind you that this is the perfect time to check and change the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms.  This simple task can save you and your family, as these devices are crucial to getting out of a house fire alive, and also for surviving CO poisoning.

Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions or concerns.  I can be reached at 203-389-3401 or bheller@woodbridgect.org.

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