First Selectman's Column from February 2023
As we step into February, there is a wonderful opportunity to honor and celebrate Black History Month. We should take time to acknowledge the heritage, accomplishments, and contributions of those who identify as Black and/or African American. While we celebrate the wealth of achievement, we must recognize on-going hardship and struggles for equity within this country.
The Ad Hoc 2030 Task Force (per their charge) continues to work on taking a Big Picture look at the changes the town should consider to diversify and broaden our Grand List. There have been three community meetings for all residents and owners/operators of property in the business district. Two important and distinct focal points have developed over the past 18 months – a connectivity strategy (sidewalks, vehicular and pedestrian safety, and walkability) and placemaking (making Woodbridge a destination, as opposed to just a passthrough). The strategies are inextricably linked, but no component of the Task Force’s thinking happens all at once. At present, the Task Force is concentrating on connectivity in order to maximize opportunities for grant dollars to offset expenditures. The Task Force will provide the Board of Selectmen (BOS) with an update at its February 8 Regular Meeting. If the Board of Selectmen is favorable, next steps include technical and engineering specificity through a grants process. The Task Force will continue to strategize on placemaking for the Business District and will provide the BOS with an update on that aspect of its work at its March meeting.
Excellent education is what brought many of us to Woodbridge and we must continue to prioritize it. I once again remind everyone that education expenses account for approximately two-thirds of the Town’s annual operating budget. As department budgets continue to increase without a corresponding increase in the Town’s grand list, the Town may be forced to cut valued services and/or accept larger tax increases. It will be up to the Boards of Finance and Selectmen to make these hard choices. While the budget process is always challenging, I expect this will be a very tough year. I am confident that we will make decisions on a budget that achieves a balance between the support of valued services and tax levels that are fair and reasonable. Our Grand List has increased by 1% this year – and our budget REQUESTS for next year are at 10%. Obviously a 9% tax increase cannot and will not happen.
Residents are encouraged to ask budget questions or to make suggestions. Budget meetings can be watched live on Channel 79, and the WGATV YouTube page. Please see the homepage of the Town’s website for a link. The most effective way for residents to share their opinion and/or ask questions is at the Monday, April 24 Preliminary Budget Hearing when the Board of Finance presents its proposed budget. This meeting will take place at 7:30 pm at the Amity High School Auditorium. Following this hearing the Board of Finance may make changes to its proposed budget which will then be presented at the Annual Town Meeting on May 15 at Amity High School Auditorium at 7:30 pm.
There are two Beecher Road School committees I would like you to know about. The first is the new Enrollment, Instructional Needs, and Space Planning Ad Hoc Committee to review and address the implications of increasing enrollment at the school. This committee’s membership will consist of a cross section of district officials, school personnel, Town representatives and community members. Appointees will review enrollment projections, programmatic and instructional needs, and staffing configurations which pose challenges in the current setting. This committee will meet and make a report to the Woodbridge Board of Education (WBOE) at its September meeting.
The second committee, which has been meeting for several months, is the Town Building Committee for Beecher Road School Capital Projects. This committee is charged with putting together multiple Beecher projects for proposals from design professionals. Its charge reads, “The Committee shall be responsible for the budget, design, and construction re: repair and maintenance of leaking roofs, asphalt walkways throughout the Beecher Road School campus, North School parking lot, overgrown trees in the various areas of the campus, The Kucinskas Loop, areas of water incursions into the building, and necessary pool and security upgrades.” The committee is working to secure responses by late-winter/early spring. At that time, the committee will interview and select a firm to recommend to the BOS, mindful of the June 30 deadline for the WBOE to submit project details to the State for potential reimbursement.
Recently, the Community & Cultural Center Building Committee presented the schematics to the public for converting the Old Firehouse into a Community & Cultural Center. A conceptual master plan for the outdoor areas surrounding the building, including the Grove and around the library was also a component of the presentation. About 25 residents were present and asked excellent questions about design, use of materials, etc. The presentation was recorded and is available on YouTube. There is also a link on the Town’s website at woodbridgect.org. https://www.youtube.com/user/wgatv79. Next steps include obtaining the construction costs for the design and presentation of the entire proposal to the BOS at its meeting on February 8.
The Woodbridge Center renovation project is picking up steam and heading for a potential late Spring opening! While the construction process has been slow-moving at times due to supply chain issues, recent adjustments have moved the project into high gear. When finished, the Senior Center will be a modern, fresh, welcoming, air-conditioned space with excellent ventilation. This project is the result of years of planning, and, with State funding, will help those over 55 remain healthy and active through new and continuing health and wellness programming.
As always, I am happy to hear from you! Please stay healthy and safe. My door is always open to you, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-389-3401.