Proposed Mill Rate Up By 2.9 Percent
The Woodbridge Board of Finance, at the preliminary budget hearing on April 24, presented a budget for a total of $56.2 million for the 2023-24 fiscal year. If approved, it will bring the mill rate to 45.08, which represents a 2.99% increase over this year’s mill rate of 43.77. For the taxpayers, that would mean the average tax bill for a property with a market value of approximately $400,000 would increase by some $378 in the upcoming fiscal year.
The budget includes a 3.62% increase for Beecher Road School and a 4.48% increase for Woodbridge’s share of the Amity budget. The total Amity budget, which is adopted by voters in a separate referendum, shows an increase of 2.25 %. The Amity referendum was scheduled to be held May 2, past this paper’s press time.
The town side of the proposed 2023-24 spending plan is for $21.2 million, a $1 million increase over this year’s budget, an increase of 5.26%. Budget drivers included increased funds for salaries and benefits, also costs for utilities, gas and gasoline, and for technology, with cyber security updates being required by the town’s insurance carrier.
Some 30 or so residents were in attendance at the preliminary hearing, with some five or so speaking up and providing pushback to a number of budget items. Many of those in the audience were Town Hall employees who could offer background information when requested.
Veterinarian and local resident Michael Broderick pointed out that the town of Easton has a mill rate of 28.3. But others pointed out that the home prices in that Fairfield County town are substantially higher than in Woodbridge. The tax bill is determined by both factors, the mill rate and the assessment. Among other topics Broderick complained that the town spends millions on the old firehouse, and to renovate the senior center, rather than move the Seniors to the former Country Club building.
Bob Hill, a former member of the Recreation Commission, remembered the late First Selectman Ed Sheehy, who passed away unexpectedly 10 years ago right after the preliminary hearing. Hill thanked the members of the commission for their volunteer work, but then proceeded to challenge them to find reductions in each of the departments that saw increases. He also requested a Charter revision to have the budget voted on by referendum rather than an in-person vote.
Recreation Director John Adamovich asked to have $10,000 reinstated of a $24,000 cut to his department budget.
Chuck Pyne was not happy to hear that the Beecher Road School roof, which has been leaking for years, will not be fixed until the summer of 2024. “To have our kids literally rained on is crazy,” he said.
Reena Seltzer, an outspoken critic of the Amity administration and its initiatives, read from a letter, touching on subjects such as the surplus, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion coach, and more.
Capital projects: The proposed budget for 2023-24 has $1.3 million earmarked for Capital and non-recurring projects, almost half of it for road maintenance. The total amount of $650,000 for road repair would be funded largely by the operating budget ($585,000) and supported by $65,000 in state LOCIP funds (Local Capital Improvement Program).
Other, smaller capital expenses that appear in the five-year Capital Plan for 2024 include:
- painting the Old South School, a historic one-room schoolhouse ($13,000);
- fire truck reserve ($175, 528);
- fire department air packs ($35,000);
- fire hose ($25,000);
- radio communications upgrade ($103,000);
- For the Parks Department, $14,500 in machinery upgrades;
- for Police, one vehicle replacement ($68,000);
- body-worn and dashboard cameras ($51,000);
- a training room projector ($8,000);
- door locking system ($12,250);
- For Public Works, a truck replacement ($40,000);
- equipment replacement (65,000);
- Bridge and Waterways reserve ($20,000);
- Thomas Darling House – a chimney rebuild; and completion of the cow barn project ($72,000).
Building projects: The Beecher Road School Capital Projects Building Committee is working to prepare a bond proposal for roof replacement at Beecher, in areas that were not included in the last building upgrade; also drainage remediation in areas where rain water tends to pool or flow towards the building; resurfacing of parking lot and sidewalks; and security updates. The preliminary amount in the Capital Plan for Beecher bonding is $2.3 million, and will be brought to referendum.
The Beecher pool filter repairs are performed in the current year’s budget, Finance Director Tony Genovese said in a conversation before the hearing. It cost some $61,000 and was paid for through the savings of closing the pool over several months. The question of whether or not the school might need the pool space for classrooms in the future may be determined by a separate school space needs assessment. It is not part of this budget.
Selectmen decided to use funds received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to supplement renovations planned at the old firehouse, which will be turned into a Community and Cultural Center. ARPA funds were also dedicated to pay for improvements in the Grove – the treed area between the library and the old firehouse, to turn it into an outdoor space for a variety of outdoor programming. The town had previously received $2 million in state bond funds toward the conversion of the community center.
The town plans to use a portion of the ARPA funds ($333,000) to upgrade the Center gym, where typically Town Meetings and elections are held. Separately, they also earmarked $275,000 for Senior Center renovations.
The Police Department renovation is listed in the Capital plan as a bonding issue for 2024 and 2025. The town has hired a design and engineering firm to come up with a master plan for the Center Building.
American Rescue Plan funds: The town received a total of $2.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, in three installments. As mentioned above, they will be used toward the Community and Cultural Center, the Grove for outdoor space; also, renovations of the Center gym and the Senior Center. In addition, Selectmen earmarked $1.3 million for capital improvements in the business district. A planner is working with the 2030 Task Force to develop streetscape and “placemaking” improvements that they hope will make the district more attractive.
What happened to the Amity surplus?: During the heated public discussion of the Amity surplus last year, the chairman of the Amity Board of Education encountered a state law that speaks to regional districts applying surplus funds to the next year’s budget rather than sending it back to the member towns. To comply with that law, the Amity district has lowered the amount it bills to the member towns for the month of March.
The amount has two components, namely, the surplus left after the end of the 2022 fiscal year divided between the three member towns; and the budget reduction Amity enacted after two defeated budget votes, when voters had already approved the town budgets with a higher number earmarked for education.
For Woodbridge, Amity reduced its bill by $134,000 as a result of the Amity budget reductions in two failed referendums; and $229,000 as Woodbridge’s share of the surplus.
The Board of Finance, sensitive to the high mill rate, in the proposed budget has transferred $800,000 from the General Fund to the budget, rather than the $400,000 which it has transferred in past years.
Finance board Chairman Matt Giglietti also pointed out that the budget does not reflect any salary increases, as two of the employee contracts are about to expire before the end of the current fiscal year. Instead, the board has set aside a higher contingency, to make sure the town will be able to meet its payroll obligations.
The Annual Town Meeting where the vote is taken, is scheduled for Monday, May 15, at 7:30 p.m., again at the Brady Auditorium. Per town charter, the quorum at the meeting is 250 eligible voters. If there are not enough voters in the audience, the Board of Finance passes the budget and sets a mill rate.