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From the First Selectman’s Desk: April 3, 2015

We are in the midst of our annual Town budget process. While budgeting always requires tough decisions, we are fortunate that our process has not been a contentious one, as it is in many other towns. Our Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance have been working to craft what we believe achieves the best balance between providing the first-rate services our residents deserve, including investment in our award-winning schools, and controlling our taxes.

The cooperative nature of our budget process begins when our Finance Department works with each Department Head to distinguish between budget “needs” and budget “wants”. Because of the trust developed over the last several years, our Town employees keep the best interests of our residents in mind as they develop and compromise on their budgets.

In February the Board of Selectmen reviewed the budget requests of all Town Departments and unanimously agreed on recommended changes. That revised document then went to the Board of Finance. Recently the Board of Finance unanimously accepted the Selectmen’s recommendations and made additional changes. The resulting document is the preliminary budget that will be presented at a public hearing on April 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Center Gym.

At the Preliminary Budget Hearing the Board of Finance will consider any additional recommendations and comments and answer questions about the budget. Final budget approval takes place at the Annual Town Meeting which will be held on May 18.

One way to meet our needs without adding to residents’ tax burdens is to be alert to grants and cooperative purchasing opportunities. This year, for example, we received State grants of $500,000 for paving and sidewalks at Beecher Road School; $500,000 for interior renovations at the Old Fire House; and $200,000 for Pease Place Playground. We also advanced the Microgrid project, allowing us to sign the agreement with the State for a $3M state grant. We partnered with the City of New Haven to purchase snow removal equipment and we continue to participate in the Capitol Region Council of Government’s Purchasing Cooperative.

We are also mindful of energy saving initiatives that reduce our budget and make us a greener community. Our recent conversion to natural gas, for example, has saved us over $100,000 annually. The energy efficiency improvements that are part of the Beecher Road School renovation project have resulted in incentive payments of $315,000. We are exploring the installation of solar panels on the Acorn Hill capped land fill to provide power for Town buildings at affordable, predictable rates.

A significant budget issue that the Town will be dealing with over the next several months is the future of the Country Club of Woodbridge property. Although I was able to re-negotiate the contract with the golf operator to shift the financial risk of golf operations from the Town to the operator and save money on management fees, the Town’s long term costs will be formidable.

An essential part of planning for Woodbridge’s future is exploring and creating opportunities to expand our tax base. To that end, I have been promoting our business district and economic development by supporting our Economic Development Commission and strengthening the ties between Town Hall and Town businesses. Recently the Economic Development Commission hosted a well-received business breakfast and seminar about digital media marketing presented by local video producer Geomatrix and social media marketing company Talking Finger. Additionally, in June the Town will begin our “Business After Hours” series.

It is important to me that residents understand what is happening at Town Hall and I welcome your feedback. You can always reach me at escalettar@woodbridgect.org. I hope you also follow us on Facebook atFacebook.com/WoodbridgeCT and sign up for the Town’s informative email newsletter at www.tinyurl.com/WoodbridgeEnews.

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