As the selected developer for 60 acres of the Country Club of Woodbridge property appears before many town boards and commissions to present details of his proposal and answer questions from residents, it has become abundantly clear this plan is not in the town’s best financial interest. So, as the primary motivation of this plan was to improve the town’s finances, we must ask ourselves “should we do it at all?”
Our administration insists the chief reasons for supporting the plan are the initial receipt of $5.4M for the sale and an enhanced property tax revenue of about $ 1.68M annually. These numbers sound good, until you do the math. The bulk of that $5.4M will go to retire the $4.5M loan on the property. The rest, at some point, will have to go to remediation of toxic soil on property the town will still own. As of now there is no agreement when that work will be done. Retiring the debt will free up about $430K annually we now spend on the property (bond payments and minimal maintenance costs), but only if we don’t issue new bonds for other capital projects on the horizon. Today that list includes $5M for Police Station renovation, $1.4M to complete renovations on the old firehouse and a $6.7M request from Amity Board of Education for mechanical and athletic facility updates, one third of which will be ours. The impact on our taxes by saving $430K a year when we are looking at over $8.5M in possible new bond costs is negligible, so is it worth the permanent change to the property development will bring?
The promise of $1.68M per year in taxes also fails the math test. The plan anticipates 120 houses being sold with each house paying about $14K in taxes. The timetable to build that many homes is five years if the project finances go as planned. Therefore, at best it will take five years to reach the projected level of new tax revenue. It’s certainly not a serious, immediate injection of cash.
Then there is the expense side. The developer has presented research indicating 30% of new homes of this type are purchased by people currently living in the same town. In our case, that would be 36 of those 120 new homes, not a stretch considering 23% of our population is age 65 and up. It’s also reasonable to expect if a 65-year-old sells his or her current Woodbridge home it would be purchased by a family with two children. A Woodbridge/Amity education costs $17k/student, so two students would cost $34K. Compare that with the expected revenue of $14K in new property taxes and Woodbridge is “in the hole” $20K each time a 65+ resident sells a home to a family with two children and moves into a new golf course home. Do that for 36 new homes, and the town is short $720K annually. Beyond the cost of the education aspect, there will be a need for increased police staffing according to the Police Chief. Even one more officer per shift, with four shifts adds four new full- time officers.
We can’t ignore the impact more homes will have on an already soft Woodbridge real estate market. If the development is successful and 120 new homes are built, the downward price pressure on existing homes will be intense. Ask anyone trying to sell their home in today’s market and they will affirm our high taxes drive the sale price of their home down. So why would we vote to diminish our current home sale prices further?
If the motivator to sell part of the golf course property for the development is financial, a closer look reveals the finances are bad for us. The one-time cash infusion evaporates almost immediately and the savings are gobbled up with so many new capital projects on the “to-do” list. Our taxes aren’t going to go down with the sale of the property. There’s no guarantee all the homes will be built and the expected new tax revenue will ever materialize. Our costs actually go up every time a neighbor moves into a new home and sells to a young family. And if the new homes are built, the impact is a lower sale price for the current Woodbridge homeowner. Once we do the math, the answer is the deal is a bad one for Woodbridge.
This property has been a beautiful part of our town for years. It would be best for the town to explore other options for this tremendous asset and come up with a plan that both a) stops draining the town financially and b) also allows the taxpayers to have some use of a property we are paying for.
By Janet Barillari – Treasurer, Woodbridge Republican Town Committee