Thanks in part to a substantial return of dollars from Amity’s 2016-17 school year, the Woodbridge Board of Finance managed to work out a budget for the Fiscal Year 2018-19 that will keep the property mill rate increase at just under 1%. “I don’t think we can continually throw 2.5% [at the taxpayer]” said Board of Finance Chairman Matt Giglietti at the March 15 meeting. “We’ve got to at some point put the brakes on.”
The board made it its goal to bring the mill rate increase to below 1% — and by cutting here and tucking there and moving some capital expenditures up to this fiscal year, the board managed to come up with a mill rate of 39.83, up slightly from the current 39.44. Only the motor vehicle taxes will see a hefty increase, as the state last year kept a cap of 32 mills. That mill rate will now jump to 39.83, in line with property taxes.
Woodbridge residents will have the chance to get up-to-date budget information at the annual budget hearing Monday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the Center Gym. The final vote on the budget is at the Annual Town Meeting on May 21.
The overall expenditures are up from this year’s $48.3 million to $49.5 million, a figure that includes $14.67 million for Beecher Road School and $14.71 million for Woodbridge students enrolled in the Amity school system. It represents a 2.4% increase over this year’s expenditures.
Revenue from the state is projected to be down by $400,000. That number reflects reductions in Education Cost Sharing, as well as the Municipal Revenue Sharing grants and elderly housing assistance reimbursement.
Income from investments is projected to be higher by $50,000; and building department permits charges are up by 30,000. The Grand List shows real estate values and the motor vehicle value to be flat year-over-year. However, the fuel cell installed at the high school and owned by Avangrid has increased the taxable personal property by close to $8 million.
The Amity school system returned to the town $561,000 in surplus funds from last school year. The Board of Finance decided to apply $220,00 toward next year’s town budget; it also earmarked $50,000 specifically for potential special education costs at Beecher Road School. The rest, in the amount of $291,000, will be added to the General Fund.
As in past years, the town has also applied $400,000 from fund balance to the budget.
Capital Projects: The following are items in the capital improvement plan for the 2018-19 fiscal year (dollar amounts are rounded):
*For the fire department $334,000 (includes dollars for Engine 7, air packs and breathing air compressor);
*For the police department $127,000 for vehicle replacements, computer enhancements, an automated fingerprint identification system and an automated external defibrillator;
*For Public Works $950,000 for truck replacement and equipment reserve, and for road construction and bridge and waterways reserve;
*For the Recreation Department $20,000 for a new ice skating rink and $8,000 for concrete dugout at Center Field. The skating rink will be in the same location at the Fitzgerald Tract, however the surface will be concrete rather than asphalt;
*$25,000 to the assessor’s office for a revaluation reserve;
*$46,000 for technology at Beecher Road School;
*Building Department $12,500 for software to allow web-based permitting; and
*Building Maintenance $46,000 for building updates at the police department. The police are planning to turn a former darkroom into an office; also replace carpeting and tile work in the dispatch area. The Building Maintenance budget also includes $18,000 for the Darling House restoration project.
Discussion ensued among Board of Finance members whether the town should spend money improving the police department piece-meal, when the plan is to update the whole facility in the future. Finance board member Susan Jacobs recommended to keep the money for limited renovations in the budget, given that a comprehensive renovation has been in the planning for many years. “Consider it a recognition that the whole Center building needs to be rethought,” she said. Giglietti agreed, “They’re due” [for a renovation].
Department requests the finance board did not agree to fund this year were about $3 million in fire truck replacements and technology for the fire department; a Center Field irrigation system; they also shaved off $50,000 from the road construction line item for a total of $800,000; they removed $85,000 for an outdoor pool inspection and resurfacing at the Country Club of Woodbridge; and a scale and compactor for the Transfer Station.
The library heating system repair budgeted for $12,000 may be covered by this year’s budget.
Operating Budgets: The Selectman’s office added a position for a communications director and grant writer, a position currently held by Sheila McCreven. First Selectman Beth Heller defended the expense, saying McCreven already applied for a quarter million-dollar grant. She is also working on the SustainableCT initiative – a state initiative that is expected to provide numerous grant opportunities.
Police Lieutenant: The Police Commission on the other hand has considered to cut an administrative position, namely that of the lieutenant, which allows them to add another patrol officer to the ranks. However, the decision to do so was to be revisited, said board Chairman Robert Berke in a phone conversation March 23. A special meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners was scheduled for Monday, March 26, to reconsider the issue.
The lieutenant, Jeff Leiby, addressed the Board of Finance during the public comment section, saying the Police Commission decided to eliminate the position contrary to the recommendation from the chief of police – contrary also to the recommended rank structure for a department of this size and “contrary to what is necessary.”
“We are becoming a young department,” Leiby said with regards to the retirements of recent years. “The department needs a seasoned officer.” And, he added, “a lot of people are scratching their heads.”
Board of Finance Chair Matt Giglietti did not respond directly to the lieutenant. He did explain to the other board members later during the meeting that the finance board cannot overrule the police commission by raising their budget to a level higher than the original request.
Planner: One issue that the opinions on the finance board diverged on was whether or not they should fund the $10,000 for the work of Planner Leslie Creane, who had helped the Town Plan and Zoning Commission work on new zoning regulations; in particular for the Woodbridge Village District. Calling the proposed regulations “ill conceived,” and without any consideration of local conditions, Giglietti was not inclined to fund the position going forward. Others disagreed. “They are trying to create a vision,” said Sandy Stein. And Susan Jacobs added that the TPZ is trying to develop zoning regulations that conform with Plan of Conservation and Development. “They need a professional planner,” she said. The vote came down 3-2 in favor of keeping the funds in the budget.
Other Cuts: In going through the department requests, the Board of Finance made additional cuts:
*Legal fees: shaved $5,000;
*Contingency fund: shaved 15,000; and
*Fire Department: They reduced a salary line item by $6,300 and a training line item by $10,000; they questioned the $10,000 for incentives for volunteer fire fighters, asking for more information how the money is being distributed.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent