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First Selectman's Column from June 2023

July 4, 2024
Time to read:
Beth Heller wearing a black suit and smiling

For those of you who were unable to attend the Annual Town Meeting, I’ve decided to post an abridged version of my State of the Town address for this month’s column.

“Good evening, everyone – thank you all for attending this year’s Annual Town Meeting. This gathering is required by the provisions of our Town Charter and your participation tonight is most welcome.

“My family first moved to Woodbridge in 1992 and every year since, I remain in awe of how especially beautiful the town is at this time of year. Green grass, colorful tree blossoms, and abundant flowers and flowering shrubs help us celebrate the return of warmer weather. It is a joy for me to see it each and every time.

“Also at every annual meeting, we celebrate the completion of another budget preparation cycle. After literally thousands of hours of work done by town staff and members of the community who volunteer their time, we now have the final budget recommendation from the Board of Finance for the next fiscal year, set to begin July 1.

“This year had more than its share of unique challenges with global inflation coming home to roost, compounding the town’s continued static Grand List.

“With that in mind, please know we did all we could to meet the town’s obligations, including its commitment to public education, and resident demand for municipal services, balanced with great respect for local taxpayers. Rest assured we made every effort to minimize the local property tax burden by controlling costs and improving efficiency, always with those obligations and commitments paramount in our deliberations. I continued to ask for resident input each step of the way.

“The Board of Selectmen reviewed and reduced the initial departmental requests and subsequently unanimously approved and forwarded our proposals to the Board of Finance for further review. The budget deliberations required tough decisions guided by careful consideration of the best interests of Woodbridge taxpayers. I hope you will all remember that since last fall I have been encouraging residents to take an active part in the months-long process of budget development. I consistently wrote that all residents could have a voice in the process. Operating budget presentations began in late January and the opportunity to ask questions of the departments and boards and commissions was strongly encouraged as was attendance at meetings, reading meeting minutes, watching channel 79, and reviewing meetings on YouTube.

“Over the past several years, we have consolidated staff positions and reduced programs. From 2016 to 2023 the Town Departments’ portion of the adopted budget has increased by only 5.53 % while inflation has been in excess of 25% over those 7 years. During this same period the Amity Budget increase has been 27.33% and the Beecher Road School budget’s increase has been 21.68%.

“Each year as we convene the budget process, it is clear to me that we need to grow and diversify our Grand List. In order to support our priorities, we must focus on growing revenue. In 2020, we created the 2030 Task Force, whose membership includes Woodbridge residents who are both business and Town leaders, and they have been charged with seeking ways to create a healthier, robust, grand list by 2030. The Town can grow its grand list by expanding the commercial district and by offering new and diverse housing.

“Our 2030 Task Force is examining how to accomplish just that, with a goal of having a healthier Grand List by 2030. The Task Force has already presented its connectivity proposal as well as strategies on placemaking and other ideas for the Business District to maximize grant opportunities. The Selectmen voted unanimously to endorse the concepts presented by the Task Force and authorized the Finance Director to move ahead with seeking grant opportunities. I look forward to making this vision a reality.

“Recently, Toll Brothers broke ground for a new housing development on Bradley Road at Litchfield Turnpike. These approximately 70 new units will allow older residents to downsize here in Woodbridge, should they choose to do, and also attract new and diverse businesses to the commercial district while potentially generating an estimated $1.1 million in tax dollars.

“Other savings will be realized through the regionalization of Animal Control. We continue to handle calls for Bethany, Seymour, and may have an opportunity to add Beacon Falls. Additionally, Bulky waste fees, weighing haulers’ loads and focusing on recycling can continue to keep our Waste Management costs down.

“Over the past year we have made important progress in some major capital projects. We have a restored commitment to the Town’s infrastructure including roofs, roads, and buildings. After years of deferred maintenance, we are overdue in looking at the cost savings of sustainable buildings. Building Maintenance has been working on replacing all lights with LED - lower cost lighting and installing programmable thermostats. We also need to look at increasing insulation, roof replacement, and double pane windows - all the things you do to your own homes for increased energy savings.

“These infrastructure projects include The Woodbridge Center renovation, the Center Building gym renovation, the Former Fire House renovation, and the Center Building renovation.

“The Woodbridge Center’s transition is almost complete and will hold a ribbon cutting next month! 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 and Federal funding, will help those over 55 remain healthy and active through new and continuing health and wellness programming.

“With a STEAP Grant and a portion of the Federal ARPA funds, the Center Building gym will have a modern, efficient HVAC system, refinished flooring, and improved ADA accessibility among other improvements. This is a room that is heavily used 6 days a week, year-round by multiple departments and it is long overdue for this attention. Hopefully we will resume all our Town meetings there as well.

“With $2 million in Federal funding, the Former Firehouse plans are beginning to look transformative. This building will serve the town as a Community and Cultural Center and will be available for residents and community groups to use.

“The Center Building, which was built almost 100 years ago, and which houses our Police and Human Services Departments, is in dire need of modernization and efficiencies for energy savings. The Board of Selectmen has provided funding for the initial stages of planning with an architectural firm.

“Another much-needed project that has our full attention is the Beecher roof. The Woodbridge School District has been experiencing delays in a roof replacement project due to administrative turnover and pandemic-related disruptions. Please keep in mind the district has had three superintendents and three business managers from mid-2020 to 2023 (three years). The Town is currently working with the new Superintendent Vonda Tencza and the Board of Education to finally get this done. We have been informed by the WBOE that the project cannot disrupt academic activities, and as a result the earliest the roofing and other improvements can be started is summer 2024.

“In the meantime, the Building Committee has continued to urge the Woodbridge Board of Education to take the necessary interim steps to correct leaks and limit water damage to the greatest extent possible between now and the start of capital project work in mid-2024 and have been assured this is happening.

“We have many great departments that make Woodbridge a special place. I’m going to highlight a few for you:

“Our volunteer fire department responds to calls for service, 24/7/365. On average they respond to 480 incidents per year. In 2022 its members responded to 29 fire calls, 7 severe weather calls, 188 hazardous conditions calls, 23 service calls, and 12 rescue and emergency services incidents. In addition to this important service, these volunteers put on tremendous community events – like “Truck or Treat”. They also provide fire education at our school, train volunteers to properly install car seats, and they hold a toy drive for Christmas and host Santa and Mrs. Claus.

“Our Police Department is also a 24/7/365 operation. To date this year, they have responded to 269 car accidents, 116 traffic stops, completed 20,295 deterrent patrol assignments, answered 797 calls for medical assistance. They have answered 26,809 assorted calls for service and responded to 556 activated alarms. Woodbridge PD also sponsors a “Fill a Cruiser” to help families with toys at Christmas, volunteers at Woodbridge Center luncheons, and participates in Special Olympics fundraisers. Two officers are assigned full-time to our local schools and Officer Lynch runs a DARE program at Beecher Road School. Our department also has two trained, accident reconstructionist and one State of Connecticut certified drug recognition expert.

“Woodbridge Human Services provides social services, senior services, youth services, and veterans services for residents. Human Services continues to execute health and wellness programming including pandemic assistance such as masks, home test kits, COVID vaccine and booster clinics, isolation outreach as well as flu clinics, client advocacy, fuel assistance, VITA Tax assistance, and food pantry coordination and distribution.

“The Woodbridge Center offers senior services including a transportation program, meal distribution program, health and wellness education and exercise programs and social and hobbies classes. Their pickleball program has expanded dramatically over the past year and they’ve worked with the Recreation Department to add two new courts over the next year.

“Our Youth Services Bureau coordinates positive youth development and prevention programming including baby-sitting training, Home Alone classes, internet safety, job bank, after school programs, and community service opportunities for Woodbridge students.

“The Woodbridge Town Library serves the informational, intellectual, cultural, and leisure needs of the Woodbridge community. The library typically offers hundreds of programs a year ranging from story times and craft programs to lectures and concerts. This year the library has expanded its hours to include Saturdays during the summer and has started a new 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program to encourage early literacy.

“The Recreation Department offers both youth and adult programs, a variety of summer camps, and maintains facilities including the fitness center, bocci and shuffleboard courts, as well as handling tennis court permits and managing the use of Town recreational fields. The department offers swim lessons, yoga for adults, and a volleyball league. They organize the well-attended summer concert series, the annual road race, and the Logan Testa Kids’ Triathlon.

“Our Public Works Department is made up of three sections – Highway/ Parks, Building Maintenance, and Waste Management. The Highway Department oversees 78 miles of roads including paving and plowing, storm drains, street lighting, line striping and trees. This year they have removed 86 problematic trees and have a list of another 50 or so to address.

“Building Maintenance oversees the maintenance, operation, and security of all Town buildings and sidewalks and handles set-up and breakdown for most Town meetings.

“Waste Management runs our Transfer Station. So far this year, they have disposed of over 1985 tons of municipal solid waste, 525.6 tons of recycling and 205.7 tons of demolition and bulky waste.

“Beyond the exquisite landscape we celebrate in Woodbridge each year in springtime, and beyond successful completion of another municipal budget cycle this year, our community has a great deal to celebrate every year – and year ‘round. Thank you again for participating tonight in the ongoing vitality of our town.

“Finally, I am grateful to all of the residents of Woodbridge who have reached out to me by phone, text, or e-mail. I value and appreciate your opinions and suggestions and offers to help. I will continue to try to get answers to any questions you may have. As your First Selectman it is my honor and my privilege to serve this community. We will continue to face challenges, but I am confident that we will find our way together. Thank you.

“Before I introduce our Administrative Officer and Finance Director Tony Genovese, I’d like to give kudos to our Finance Department, which has seen some significant staffing changes this past year, and still was awarded a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for its comprehensive annual financial report and for Distinguished Budget Presentation to the Town of Woodbridge for its annual budget by The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA). Additionally, the Town of Woodbridge maintains a Aaa bond rating from Moody’s Investor Services. This rating states that Woodbridge’s credit position is superior, and its Aaa rating far surpasses the median rating of cities nationwide.”

This is an opinion not necessarily endorsed by the Woodbridge Town News.

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