Town leaders presented their 2019 budget proposal at a public hearing April 23, laying out a 2.4% spending increase. This will result in a mill rate increase of .99% for real estate and 24.5% for motor vehicles.
If approved, it translates into a $283 tax increase for the average Woodbridge household for the fiscal year starting in July, according to Finance Director Anthony Genovese. The mill rate for real estate and personal property would increase ever so slightly from 39.4 to 39.83; the motor vehicle mill rate would increase from 32 to 39.8. At the hearing Genovese explained the large increase in motor vehicle taxes with a state law that capped last year’s motor vehicle mill rate at 32. This cap has been raised to 45.
As far as the challenges to this year’s budget process, Genovese mentioned a $400,000 shortfall in state revenue and the lack of Grand List growth over the past decade. At the same time the town saw a $100,000 growth in investment income and a 10% decrease in debt payments.
Attendance from the public was light, with few people taking the opportunity to comment on the budget. Bill Cofrances, an Amity graduate who lived in Guilford for a long time before recently moving back into town took the opportunity to note the lack of economic development dollars. The commission has a line item amount of $3,800 for the year. “That’s a farce,” he said. “It should be quadrupled.”
First Selectman Beth Heller said the town had contracted with the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, CERC, a public-private entity that provides support to the commission which consists of volunteers, mostly business owners. It is also in the process of providing a fiscal analysis for the town. The $5,000 for that cooperation are not part of the EDC budget.
Former first Selectman Amey Marrella noted the $20,000 in the capital budget for a new skating rink. She did not take issue with that, however she mentioned that it came to her attention that the existing skating rink never went through Inland Wetland permitting.
Marrella also brought up concerns regarding the state of the roof at the club house at the former Country Club of Woodbridge. Genovese agreed that the roof is not in great shape. However, the building’s upper level is closed as per the fire marshal and he hadn’t inspected it recently.
In a brief “State-of-the-town” type of address, Heller listed projects that are underway, namely;
- the emergency radio communication system update, which is set to be installed by the end of the year.;
- Renovations to the animal shelter and exploration of expanding the regional animal control services to neighboring towns;
- Progress on a plan for the old firehouse that enhances the value of this historic asset; and
- In partnering with the Amity school district, the town has begun a shared-service agreement to save money on IT services.
“My administration is focused on investment and planning, to preserve and enhance our quality of life, consistent with our shared values,” she said, pledging to continue energy efficiency and sustainability efforts; investment in the schools and the library and protecting funding of public safety agencies.
“A major goal I would like to achieve in my time as your first selectman is to make progress on some of the important projects the town must tackle,” Heller said, referencing the future of the former Country Club of Woodbridge. A public opinion survey has been completed in conjunction with a team from Amity High School. The implications of those survey results are currently being discussed by the Board of Selectmen.
As for economic development, Heller said the town contracted with the Connecticut Economic Resource Center to conduct a fiscal health analysis which is scheduled to be completed this summer. “We will also move forward on plans to increase our focus on supporting and promoting our business district and the many commercial endeavors that contribute to our tax base.”
She also mentioned a recent Farmers Forum, co-sponsored with a community-led agriculture group. A number of residents are interested in establishing an agriculture commission in town so as to support existing and future farmers.
The budget will be voted on at the Annual Town Meeting on May 21 starting at 7:30 p.m., at the Center Building gym. Changes can be made to the final document until that point. Most years the attendance at the Town Meeting does not constitute the legal quorum of 250 and the final vote reverts to the Board of Finance.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent