When the Republican party looks at Woodbridge today, we see a lot of positives, predominantly based on the residents who contribute countless volunteer hours on our boards and commissions, independent service organizations, and church and temple-based committees. Other townspeople have generously donated expertise, time and funds to Massaro Farm, the Park Association, Historical Society, Land Trust and more. We thank all of you who are working selflessly to better our town.
We also see room for improvement. The political leadership, for example, should take a lesson from the aforementioned volunteers and contributors who sincerely want to make Woodbridge better. Essential transformation must start at the top. Our First Selectman ran on a commitment to reach across the aisle in the management of the town. Unfortunately, she has not honored her promise. Of late, the lack of even listening to residents has become the standard bill of fare. When the 96-page report from the ad-hoc affordable housing committee was presented to the Board of Selectmen, public comments overwhelmingly encouraged the Board not to vote to accept it as submitted, but to pause until the lengthy document could be thoroughly reviewed by concerned residents (and I would submit, the Board members themselves). There was no value to Woodbridge in rushing this vote, as evidenced by the fact half the towns in Connecticut did not meet the state’s submission deadline. There is no consequence imposed by the state for late submission of that report, yet the majority party was clearly more tuned in to Hartford than to our own residents. We must do better.
The Country Club of Woodbridge/Roger Sherman farm has been mishandled continuously by two administrations sharing a relentless, wrong-headed focus on residential development. This one-note approach to the future of the property has met multiple rejections by organized citizens who saw the obvious financial, conservation, and quality-of-life flaws in all the development proposals. While the most recent plan by Arbor Haven has been withdrawn, development of the property is clearly still the First Selectman’s goal. In a recent Hartford Courant interview, she sugarcoats her agenda with the possibility of recreation, open space and solar uses, but development is at the core. She says, “the town needs additional revenue and diverse housing and this parcel is certainly one way toward achieving those goals.” And, “multifamily housing with a component of affordable housing will generate taxes to offset town expenses.” That statement is inaccurate. Repetition must never validate misinformation! The First Selectman is tone deaf and we deserve better.
Yes, Woodbridge is in a tough spot when it comes to finding ways to ease the financial burden on property owners who will now endure another mill rate increase. Our mill rate continues to be in the upper ranks statewide. The obvious answer is to increase our commercial tax base, not build high density housing that unquestionably will adversely impact the Town’s financial condition. Serious focus on economic development requires professional help. Leaving an issue this important to a volunteer committee with a revolving membership is a disservice to those members and to Woodbridge taxpayers. In April the Town hired a consulting firm for $12,000 to address the development of the business district. That’s potentially productive, but as a good first step, let’s get the First Selectman’s “beautification of the town center” ideas off the table and look for investments that will bring commercial taxpayers here. The center of town is beautiful enough, but our 43.77 mill rate is ugly. Use the grant money available to Woodbridge smartly. That approach would be better.
How we use our assets: tax revenue, grants, control of our zoning, utilization of public property and the protection of open space that makes Woodbridge special, will determine our future. Many past town leaders made tough, wise decisions to produce what is best about our town today. Today’s leaders need to rise to the occasion, listen to residents, and actually reach across the aisle. We will all be better for it.