Congratulations to First Selectman Beth Heller and all those on her team elected May 3 to serve the public interest for the term ahead. On the Democratic slate, 14 of 15 nominated candidates were elected.
Informal, admittedly unscientific exit polls this month suggest voters responded favorably to Beth’s leadership, her balanced approach to government, and her commitment to basic tenets of public service: honesty, decency, and respect.
On behalf of the town committee, I thank all who supported and voted for the Democratic slate. Likewise, I thank all who participated – candidates and voters alike, regardless of party affiliation – for taking part in this time-honored, orderly, essential, and deliberate aspect of the government process.
All credit goes to the Town Clerk’s office, the Registrars of Voters, and their respective staffs for a smooth Election Day operation. Also, considering recent and implausibly persistent current events, it seems important to say ‘thank goodness’ there are no fantastical accusations of voter fraud, ballot tampering, nor election theft in Woodbridge.
As preparations continue for the new term that begins July 1, additional opportunities abound for residents to participate in town government. Literally scores of appointed positions must be filled on the boards and commissions not filled by electors; members of each board and commission work with paid staff members to watch over a specific town department.
In terms of process, the Board of Selectmen is the appointing authority to fill vacancies on these boards and commissions; prior to that, each town committee has an important role to play to recruit, vet, and then nominate residents for appointment. Terms are usually four years; those who are interested and want to get involved generally work with the town committee most closely aligned with their individual viewpoint. The Town has strict provisions regarding minority representation on each board and commission; however, to try and ensure a cross-section of ideology and perspective is included among the membership of each.
Once appointed, board and commission members attend monthly meetings, keep current with staffing, programming, and administrative operations, and during budget development season, work with staff to prepare and promote department-specific budget requirements, priorities, and requests for the following year.
Each year, the budget process begins in the fall and lasts a full six months. Town staff, working with board and commission members, begin formulating projections for anticipated needs, essential improvements, and contractual obligations of the next fiscal year right after the first quarter of the current year.
The boards of Selectmen and Finance then jointly convene a series of public meetings at which department heads – along with their respective board and commission members – present and explain their projected, preliminary budgets. In fact, there are two rounds of these hearings: one for capital budgets, to address equipment, facilities, and other infrastructure needs, followed by a second round to go through projected operating expenses.
This year the process successfully overcame remote public meetings, complex reopening plans after the prolonged pandemic, and a stubbornly flat Grand List, from which property tax revenue is generated, to develop a practical, responsible spending plan for the coming year. It has a small mill rate increase.
This month however, at the 11th hour, a group of residents, overtly incited by the Republican town committee, began second-guessing the budget agreed upon by Republicans, Democrats, and Unaffiliated voters every step of the way, after literally thousands of work hours – by paid staff and volunteer residents alike. As a result, the May 17 Annual Town Meeting, where the budget is usually adopted, was adjourned and postponed, after this same group raised procedural questions about this year’s remote meeting format. So, the town budget for next year remains pending.
No one denies the right of these residents to question the proposed annual budget, but their manner is suspect. To me, the idea that it was prompted by the WRTC also reeks of petulance after what must have been a frustrating and disappointing campaign/election cycle. I think it’s diabolical to weaponize government for political/ideological gain, the way Republicans nationwide continue working to weaponize voting rights, the judiciary, and the pandemic response.
Here in Woodbridge, the opportunity to question aspects of the budget at the last-minute helps guard against surprises, oversights, and any attempted impropriety. But none of that is being questioned here. It would be a terrible shame for Beecher Road School, library hours, recreation programs, or senior programming to sustain last-minute, mob-inspired budget cuts.
I hope town residents turn out en masse to the rescheduled Annual Town Meeting (no details available at this writing) to defend next year’s proposed budget, the process by which it was deliberated, and all those who spent so much time agonizing over its preparation.
Residents who want to be involved in local government should contact the Woodbridge Democratic Town Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.