With all that has happened in this past year with Covid, one would think that we would be coming together- not coming apart. We can agree to disagree with respect and I really saw little of that from those attending the Annual Town Meeting on June 2.
I write this letter not to challenge the rights of the voters in the Town of Woodbridge but to ask you all to look and see what has happened to civility in this town. I have lived here for 43 years and have never seen such behavior. Being an employee of the town, I would normally never write a letter to the newspaper but I was so saddened by the tone of those present that I felt I had to write.
Please know that each and every one of our wonderful departments in town (and they are wonderful) have been cut each year to ensure that our Boards of Education can provide the very best education for our children, while all of us in the Town Hall, Police, Fire, Public Works, Library and Human Services are trying very hard to keep the services of the town at the best level possible. This becomes more and more difficult each year. The Town has eliminated 10 full time positions over the last few years and departments have had their budgets cut hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So here is the question that I have for you: do you want to be the one to be responsible if there is no police or fire personnel or medic to come to your house if you have been robbed or a family member is having a heart attack or your house is on fire or you are in a serious car accident waiting for help. We can always call in another town – but would you want to have to wait for that? Our Finance Director, Board of Selectmen and Boards of Finance, with their expertise, have gone through our budgets with a fine tooth comb to do as much as possible for the townspeople. We have had our budgets cut, our staff cut, our health care cut while the state and federal governments keep adding new laws to make our jobs more difficult every year. We have all tried our best to streamline our offices to implement all the changes as our population grows. We all try to accommodate our townspeople’s requests if at all possible, but it was difficult to witness the raucous behavior at this town meeting. I was very embarrassed for our town and I am hoping this never happens again. Meetings should be civil and disagreements can be had – but with respect. The demand to remove the Selectman’s Department and the First Selectman’s salary (who by the way has refused the raise offered to her for the last 4 years since she has been in office- would you do that?) , or to remove the contingency, legal services, fire hydrants, youth services, library books, and medic was insulting. Do you really think we can run the town properly without these services?
Our Town Charter provides for an Annual Town Meeting in order to approve the Town Budget. A quorum of 250 voters must be present for a vote to be taken. The meeting was scheduled to start at 6:30, when only 181 voters had checked in, at 6:45 there were still only 220 voters and the Moderator extended the check in time again to 7:00 to allow in the latecomers, so that a quorum could be reached. Although people were given every opportunity to express their views, they demanded recounts when votes didn’t go their way and continued to be disrespectful to those conducting the meeting. The Charter was not created by the present administration-it was created in 1962 and after seeing this meeting I think it was done wisely, requiring the budget be reviewed line by line so that people understood what they were voting on, because it is apparent that people did not understand how the budget process works. The Charter may be confusing but it is very important to know the ramifications of the proposed actions.
And, by the way we did have several opportunities to lower our taxes with the condo proposals for part of the Country Club property, saving the majority of the property for open space. We could have paid off the debt, had money left over to pay off other parts of the budget and taken in ½ million to 1 million in extra monies each year to lower our taxes. You can’t have it both ways. Just so that you know – I voted for the proposal. We do not have a large business tax base in Woodbridge so we have to bear the brunt of the taxes to live in this beautiful town.
I invite you all to come to the town hall and see our offices and meet the department heads and staff and see what we do and I think you will come away with a better understanding of how our town works. Our town employees are kind, helpful and really do try to do the very best we can for the town.
And another thing, you can go on line and you can see that many townspeople’s taxes were lowered last year- not increased -when the revaluation was done. Unfortunately my house wasn’t one of these, my taxes went up – but I chose to live here – for the school system, for the open space, the wonderful trails, the lot size of the properties and the beauty of the town. This really was a special place. We were lucky enough to bring up our family here and have had many wonderful years here. I could move to another town with less taxes, but I do love it here and hope to stay here the rest of my life if I can. There are some things that I have to give up to live here, but I feel our town is well worth it.
Stephanie Ciarleglio – Woodbridge Town Clerk