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First Selectman's Column from May 2023

May 4, 2023
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First Selectman's Column from May 2023

Please accept my heartfelt appreciation to everyone who has reached out with kind expressions of sympathy following the recent passing of my mother.

Board of Selectmen Update

The April meeting of the Board of Selectmen featured a presentation by the 2030 Task Force and consultant Pirie Associates to outline a preliminary vision and place-making plan for the business/commercial district.  I encourage you to view the WGATV recording of this portion of the meeting on YouTube to learn more.  The Selectmen voted unanimously to endorse the concepts presented and asked the Task Force to schedule presentations to Town boards and commissions to begin rolling out this preliminary vision for transformation of this area, with the goal of growing and ensuring a healthier Grand List by 2030 and maximizing grant opportunities.  The Task Force previously gave a presentation to interested residents and business owners regarding connectivity in the business district.  Please stay tuned for more information on this exciting work.

Also at the meeting, the Selectmen received an update regarding the work of the Town Building Committee for Beecher Capital Projects which is in the process of advertising for and hiring architectural and civil engineering services.  The committee is overseeing the replacement of portions of the roof and exterior grounds work to address water incursion at the school among other needs.  It is important to keep in mind the timeframe for this project which is slated for completion during the summer of 2024.  Please see a more complete update below under Beecher Road School Roof Update.

American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Update

In 2022, the Town of Woodbridge received notice of a $2.6 million distribution of federal funds through the Biden American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).  Through deliberate and careful consideration by Town officials, plans for these funds have been developed and incorporated into the 6-year Capital Budget plan.  The Board of Selectmen approved this Capital budget proposal unanimously and forwarded this recommendation to the Board of Finance.

A portion of the ARPA funds have already been put to an approved use, with an earlier distribution of $275,000 to assist with the costs for a much a needed HVAC system within the current Senior Center project.  $1.3 million of this award has been earmarked for improvements to the business/commercial district.  The Town has made a commitment to increasing the Grand List, and the ad hoc 2030 Task Force is leading this important work.  Qualifying for grants to both rejuvenate and improve the business district requires professional planning and engineering studies.  That work is currently underway so the Town will be eligible to participate fully in the grant process.

Plans for the other portion of the ARPA funds include $333,000 to supplement a $500,000 STEAP grant (Small Town Economic Assistance Program) already received by the Town to renovate the Center Building gym.  Another $333,000 is planned to create outdoor space for an outdoor pavilion and other amenities to improve community connections and provide a safe open-air location for seniors, library programming and all other local groups.  The final $334,000 has been allocated to help defray construction costs on the renovation of the Old Firehouse into a Community and Cultural Center and add to the $2 million in grant funds already in place for that project.

Town Budget Update

The budget process is always challenging and requires difficult decisions to arrive at a budget that balances support for valued services with tax levels that are fair and reasonable.  Thank you to the residents who participated in the budget process to date, especially to those who attended the April 24 Preliminary Budget Hearing.  We now look forward to the Annual Town Meeting, which will take place at the John Brady Auditorium at Amity High School on Monday, May 15 at 7:30 pm.

Beecher Road School Roof Update

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 district had initially proposed refurbishing the roof under the administration of Superintendent Robert Gilbert, who left the district in 2020.  The project was reviewed and then proposed again as a roof replacement project by the next Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Budd.  However, the option to include funding for the project in a multi-project bonding process was ultimately not pursued.  When the Town was informed by Interim Superintendent Christine Syriac that full replacement of portions of the roof was required, in September 2022 a Building Committee was formed – a necessary step to receive a state-funded School Construction grant, which is anticipated.  The Town is currently working with the new Superintendent Vonda Tencza and the Board of Education to finally get this done.  The Building Committee is following a process that includes issuing an RFQ for professional architectural and engineering services (which has been sent out), followed by five phases of contracted A&E work and a referendum for approval to bond the project costs.  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.

Despite the delays, the Woodbridge School District and the Town have been working together in harmony to address the identified building issues as expeditiously as possible, and the Building Committee has been keeping the public informed of the project details and scheduling timeline, and noted that the delays in the district’s participation in the necessary partnership between the WBOE and the Town that may have occurred in the past have now been rectified by the current district administration.  The Building Committee also acknowledged the importance of respecting the taxpayer investment in the building, which includes a $13.7 million Renovation Project completed in January 2017 and scheduled for bond repayment in full by 2037.

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.  You may keep up to date on the work of this committee by reviewing meeting agendas and minutes at the Town website.

Regional Water Authority Update

In December of 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revised the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) with new regulations intended to protect public health.  Based on those revisions, the Regional Water Authority (RWA) will launch a new project in the coming months as it begins to look at water connections from RWA mains onto private properties.  They will reach out to residents who utilize the public water system via mailings.  This project will not involve those who utilize wells.  RWA has already begun to inventory accounts and will, with homeowners’ assistance, evaluate infrastructure on private properties.  Stay tuned for more information as the RWA rolls out this new program.

Memorial Day Ceremony

The annual Woodbridge Memorial Day ceremony will be held Monday, May 29 at 11 am at the VFW monument in front of the Center Building on Meetinghouse Lane.  The keynote speaker this year will be Major General Thomas R. Bouchard, Deputy Commander for Mobilization and Reserve Affairs, United States Special Operations Command, MacDill AFB, Florida.  The program, led by Dr. Barry Josephs, will also include patriotic music, a memorial wreath presentation, the Woodbridge Police Department Honor Guard, and remarks by state and local elected officials.  In case of inclement weather, the event will be held in the Center Building gym.  Another item for your calendars is an event planned by the Governor’s office to honor Vietnam Veterans.  This ceremony will be held in Woodbridge on July 17 and will feature special citations to all residents who are Vietnam veterans.

Please feel free, as always, to reach out to me at 203-389-3401 or bheller@woodbridgect.org.

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

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