The Board of Selectmen, at its July meeting, endorsed two changes to the town ordinances, changes that will go to public hearing at the September 12 board meeting. It introduced a tax credit program for volunteer fire fighters and made tweaks to the pet leash law.
Tax Credit For Fire Fighters
As a way to thank the volunteer fire fighters for their service and to support the fire department in its recruitment effort, selectmen adopted a tax abatement program. The program will reduce Woodbridge tax bills by $250 for any local fire fighter who served at least two years; $500 for a minimum of three years and $750 for five years of service and more.
According to Finance Director Anthony Genovese, the proposed ordinance could have a budget impact of about $37,500. In addition to the time fire fighters will have to put in to qualify for the tax abatement, the ordinance requires them to respond to at least 25% of all calls; to keep up with training requirements, and attend a certain percentage of meetings.
At the June committee meeting, First Selectman Beth Heller brought up how the number of calls has been increasing in the past few years. The fire fighters also have been instrumental in storm response and cleanup, helping clear roads and driveways. Even so, the storm cleanup is not counted toward their response hours, said Fire Commission Chairman Elia Alexiades.
Mica Cardozo, the chairman of the ordinance committee, said he looked at similar programs in surrounding towns, some of which go significantly higher with their tax credits. “For once we are not on top of the list,” joked Selectman Joe Dey, who also serves on the ordinance committee.
The tax credit is in addition to an existing incentive program, whereby the town budgets $40,000 for the fire department to reward longevity. This new program rewards those who do the work, Cardozo explained.
Selectman Joe Crisco supported the new program. If the fire fighters were not volunteers, it would cost the town a whole lot more, he commented.
If approved, the ordinance will be applied to the October. 1 Grand List, which informs the July 2019 tax bills.
Selectmen tweaked the leash ordinance which requires dog owners to keep their pets on a leash on any public land. The existing ordinance, which was adopted just over a year ago, was used by some to harass neighbors, said Animal Control Officer Karen Lombardi when she addressed the ordinance committee in March. She said the definition of “town property” includes the reference to streets and sidewalks, which is not needed. She said the Orange ordinance simply states that a dog is to be leashed when on town property, and that covers it.
In addition to taking out the reference to streets and sidewalks, the committee introduced language to allow for leash free zones, in anticipation of a designated dog park and potentially other off-leash areas that some dog owners have been asking for.
The Ordinance Committee is a subcommittee of the Board of Selectmen. Serving on the committee are Mica Cardozo, chairman; Selectman Joe Dey and First Selectman Beth Heller. The Ordinance Committee makes recommendations to the full board. The selectmen are required by law to hold a public hearing on any changes to the ordinances before they go into effect.
Other issues the committee is looking at is whether or not the town would benefit from creating an agriculture commission; whether or not the town should strengthen its blight laws; as well as tweaks to the storm water management and recycling regulations.
The storm water management and solid waste regulations need to be brought into compliance with state requirements, explained Communications Director Sheila McCreven after the meeting. She said they are looking into possible sample regulations and have referred the issue to a transfer station advisory committee and the town’s sustainability committee for comment.
Public Works Office Manager Kelly Hammill had informed the town that the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) requires all towns to adopt specific language to “address the handling of recycling and solid waste.” The current regulation is titled “Solid Waste Regulations.” Hammill is working on integrating some of the local provisions into the ordinance suggested by the state.
The new ordinance would include a citation process for violating the recycling requirement. The first selectman can appoint a point person to oversee recycling compliance.
A blight complaint was brought to the committee by a resident who was upset by trash and an overgrown yard across the street from her residence. Blight enforcement currently rests with the building official. The existing ordinance looks for any condition “that poses a serious threat to the safety, health and/or general welfare of the community,” such as a fire hazard, rodents; persistent garbage or trash; broken or boarded up windows, unsafe structural conditions and conditions attracting illegal activity as documented by police reports; abandoned vehicles and abandoned parking lots. Yard maintenance per se is not mentioned.
Selectman Joe Dey was cautious. “We live in the woods,” he said at the June committee meeting. “Some people like the natural environment.” Town attorney Gerald Weiner agreed that stricter blight regulations can have unintended consequences such as neighborly tension and fights. Chairman Cardozo said his motivation was more with neighbors’ property values in blight situations. He pointed to the City of Ansonia, which, he said “decided systematically to fine” those who left their properties in disrepair.
The committee decided to look into what other towns are doing in these situations and whether the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities has any recommendations.
The Ordinance Committee has started looking at creation of an Agriculture Commission as part of the Woodbridge government. It would serve in an advisory function and represent the interest of the farming community.
The request for such a commission was brought up a few months ago by a group of young farmers interested in forming such a commission. The group has since gained some traction with a farmers’ forum this spring, which was better attended than most town meetings.
Chairman Cardozo, though impressed with the enthusiasm expressed by the group, said he is generally not in favor of more government. Even so, he supports the concept of having a “farm-focused group,” a function that in some towns is assigned to the Conservation Commission. Selectman Dey suggested to talk to Orange and Bethany to see if there would be interest in forming a regional group.
The committee will continue deliberations on this point at its next meeting, set for August 28 at 6 p.m.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent