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Across The Aisle 9.3.21

So many issues, so little space

As we move past the dog days of August and near-normal routine reclaims our family calendars, there are several simmering town issues that deserve attention. But first, the column header was tongue-in-cheek – I thank the Woodbridge Town News publisher for providing this space in each issue for the Woodbridge Republicans to offer our views on local topics and suggest ways we can improve our town.

Over the summer a new proposal for Country Club of Woodbridge was received in Town Hall. Unsolicited, it is a new twist on an old theme – housing development. Entertaining one more proposal for the property is fine, but it does dig up many unresolved issues surrounding what is arguably the Town’s greatest asset. How is it that after 12 years there is still no definitive plan for the property? It appears we have been passively waiting for “the next guy” to come along with a plan to which we react. That’s not leadership, that’s indecision. A town-wide survey conducted in 2018 yielded no consensus on what to do with the property. And, to cast a shadow on that survey, there were no hard facts presented to the residents regarding financial impacts of any option. Nor what effect different uses of the property would have on the quality of life for those living in that part of town. Would our zoning need to be modified, and what would the impact be on the school system, etc.? These are all questions that will undoubtedly rise again as the newest suitor attempts to make a case. There is also proposal for the property that would protect it as open space with an eye toward converting portions of the property to farming. That, too, deserves to be vetted. We look forward to a transparent, public review of all plans put forward.

The proposed bonding has taken a few twists over the past months. It started with the flawed premise that since we are paying off some bonds (read: getting out of debt), we are able to borrow again to get back into debt! Let’s rethink the idea and only use bonding for capital projects for which there is a compelling need. Of the six proposed bonds, some have fallen off the table. The $300k for the Senior Center is now being covered by a State of Connecticut grant – but let’s not get too excited about that. After all we are state taxpayers too, so it’s basically our money coming back to us. The $766k bond to demolish the CCW Clubhouse is now also scratched – good! Two others, the $300k to build a sidewalk from Amity High School to the Woodbridge Library is still in play, as is the $1.7M to finish renovations on the old fire house. Neither of these are compelling needs. Beyond the astronomical price tag for the side walk, does it actually provide a substantial improvement for students? In fact, the current “overland” route across the church green may be safer than walking next to periodically busy Newton Road. Regarding the old firehouse, plans for the Amity Regional School District to rent a portion of the building have dissolved, thus, the Town has no prospective tenants from which to collect rent to offset the investment in the bond. How can you justify spending $1.7M to renovate a building when you have no tenant and no idea what a future tenant may want? It’s not practical to bond this project with no idea what the future holds. And lest we forget, every one of these bonds winds up in our budget – which impacts our already high mill rate.

Speaking of budgets and mill rates, there has been zero movement, to my eye, on the issue of convening a Charter Revision Commission to recast how we approve our Town budget. No one could be satisfied with the disastrous virtual town meeting that was abruptly adjourned when it was pointed out that meeting did not have to be held on that date. Even worse was the way in which the subsequent in-person town meeting at the fire house was handled. The system prescribed in the Town Charter is archaic and seems to be designed to keep the power of the purse in the hands of a few, unelected individuals, known as the Board of Finance. No one argues they put in a lot of time and effort in the annual budget process, but the final say should be by the voters through simple referendum. The First Selectman cannot continue to be deaf on this issue. Hundreds of residents personally witnessed the dysfunction of our current process. The Charter needs to be fixed – and now is the time.

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