First Selectman Beth Heller has sailed relatively smoothly through the first six months of her administration, avoiding the rough edges that her predecessor sometimes bumped up against, yet Heller managed to move things forward. Her biggest achievement so far is the approval of $2 million for a emergency radio system overhaul, a proposal which was passed by the Board of Finance after a special Town Meeting failed to produce the necessary quorum. At the time she also announced an oversight committee for the project, which will be chaired by Selectman Joe Dey.
The New Year may present a number of more controversial issues for her to deal with. The question of what to do with the Country Club of Woodbridge so far is unresolved. Heller wants to bring the issue back to the residents in the form of a survey. Will people support using some or all of the property for recreational purposes? Should the club house be demolished or updated? Should taxpayer money pay for pool renovations? Should the board find a buyer for the whole 153 acres or attempt to raise some money through a partial development? These are unresolved questions that previous first selectmen have tried to solve by selling parts of the property, only to find the proposal crushed by wide-spread opposition.
“I see the [country club] as an opportunity, not a negative,” Heller said in a conversation in her Town Hall office at the end of the year. “We have to balance ecological with recreational use and some tax relief,” she said.
The Board of Selectmen was planning to decide the survey wording at its January 10 meeting, past this paper’s deadline.
Collaboration With Amity
The survey will cost the town only minimally, as it will be administered and tabulated by Amity students under the direction of Social Studies teacher Rick Bourdeau. This is an exciting collaboration between the school and the town, Heller said. These kinds of collaboration was a part of her campaign promise to cut costs by sharing services.
Similar cooperation proposals between Town Hall and the Amity and local school systems are being considered, for instance, by sharing IT service throughout the area. At the same time the town may be able to provide facilities to the school system that are beneficial to them. At the November selectmen meeting, Heller announced that Amity School Supt. Dr. Charles Dumais had approached the town with a proposal to build out and use the upper floor of the old firehouse for the district’s growing Transition Academy, a program that helps prepare students between the ages of 18 and 21 for life after school. Currently those students are placed out of district at an annual cost of approximately $200,000, plus the cost for transportation. If the district could provide those services locally, it could save considerable dollars. The old firehouse, located at the corner of Center and Newton Roads, would be in walking distance to the high school campus.
If the school uses the upper floor, it would not change any of the other uses envisioned for the old firehouse, Heller said, namely moving the fitness center equipment to the first floor, into bays 2 and 3; and keeping the historic fire truck and possibly displaying other historic artifacts in Bay 1.
Town leaders have established a relationship with the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, CERC, a nonprofit corporation and public-private partnership that “provides economic development services, leveraging Connecticut’s unique advantages as a premier business location.” The organization offers support to municipalities in building an economic development vision and marketing and branding their marketplace. As a first step, selectmen asked CERC representatives to work with the Economic Development Commission and to review the Grand List. The goal of this cooperation is to grow the Grand List to broaden the taxpayer base.
Improvements at the Woodbridge Animal Shelter are continuing. This past year saw the extension of the water line from Lunar Drive to the cul de sac at Bradley Road, where the shelter is located. Heller hopes that private grants and donations will allow the town to stretch the dollars from a STEAP grant the town received from the state for this project.
Given movement on so many fronts, she takes an optimistic outlook for 2018. “I am very much looking forward to the new year,” she said.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent