Planning for capital improvements and longterm projects

Week of January 15 through 21, 2023

Planning for capital improvements and longterm projects

Looking forwards and back this week, on Thursday the Board of Selectmen’s Strategic Plan Committee (SPC) met to review progress and prepare an update for the Board and the public. Let’s consider.

Some news

At the meeting on January 19th, the SPC stepped through a revised draft version of the plan, and in recognition of the fact that the Selectmen’s terms in office now extend to December 31, 2023, discussed the idea that the Strategic Plan should also run through the end of the calendar year. The revised draft also now includes a column to note projected timing for each section. As with all human endeavor, this column can of course only capture a ‘best guess’ projection — but it was deemed by the SPC to be worth the effort to establish a rough timeline in order to help the Selectmen form a realistic understanding of scope and sequence on a wide array of interlocking objectives.

Importantly, at its meeting the SPC noted that the Strategic Plan contributes to the annual budgeting process — and indeed, was suggested by the Town’s staff members as a municipal government ‘best practice’ related to budgeting and oversight of public expenditures (see the Plan’s ‘Goal One: Ensure Financial Stability’ section for details).

Some history

The updated Strategic Plan document contains two links to past documents. Together, the past documents and the Plan for the remainder of 2023 have the potential to serve as connective tissue to strengthen efforts to build the future of Woodbridge. Let’s look at both linked documents from the past.

The final report by CERC.

The 2019 CERC Report was the result of an effort to examine the near future of the Town of Woodbridge, conducted by consultants from the Connecticut Economic Resource Center. It captured data — like school enrollment projections, operating budget and bonded debt — to analyze and characterize trends, modeling a series of scenarios to project the fiscal situation of Woodbridge 10 years into the future.

The results, in the form of a report titled ‘Woodbridge Municipal Fiscal Health Analysis’ was presented in draft form and discussed by the Selectmen at its November 13, 2018 meeting. Further analysis was performed and the final report was finalized and presented at the Selectmen’s February 2019 meeting. The report’s introduction states:

“The following Fiscal Health Analysis was developed help the Town of Woodbridge understand its own fiscal situation and to help it prepare for potential future challenges. This analysis considers how the town’s current grand list, public services, and demographics have changed over time, and how they compare to a set of similar towns. It also explores how certain policy changes may impact the town’s budget over time.

The goal of this exercise is to help the town make the budget and planning process more data- oriented; to help Woodbridge understand how their fiscal situation compares to similar municipalities; to model hypothetical budget scenarios so the Town can understand how its decisions today can impact its future financial picture; and to allow the town to identify policies that would help strengthen its future fiscal health.”

Of three future scenarios presented, the first two examine the cost of our public schools: ‘Reduction in State Educational Funding’ and ‘School Regionalization.’ (These topics deserve a good deal of consideration — let’s plan to circle back to examine the details at a later date.) The CERC Report’s third scenario describes ‘Growth of the Commercial/Industrial Portion of the Grand List’ and concludes:

“Growth of the commercial/industrial portion of the grand list can ease the tax burden for Woodbridge homeowners. For example, 4% annual growth in the commercial/industrial sector would reduce annual property taxes on a $380,000 home by $261 annually by 2028. It is important to note, however, that such growth would not likely happen organically; the town would likely need to implement specific economic development policies and plans to encourage such expansion. It should also be noted that this does not necessarily imply an expansion of the portion of land zoned for commercial/industrial use (although that is one option); policies to encourage greater density, redevelopment of underutilized parcels, and other approaches can support growth in this area while maintaining the fundamental character and feel of the residential portions of the town. Thoughtful planning to determine the approaches most suitable to Woodbridge would be needed to achieve these results.”

The other document linked in the Strategic Plan is the current 10-year Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) that runs through the end of fiscal year 2025.

The Town’s current 10-year POCD

Prepared by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission and revised at least once every ten years in accordance with state statute, the POCD is meant to be a guide to the future. In its introduction it states:

“The purpose of this Plan of Conservation and Development (“the Plan”) is to record the best thinking of Woodbridge regarding its future growth and to give direction to both public and private development and conservation efforts. The Plan provides both a long-term vision for the community as well as a roadmap for short- and mid-term decision-making. The Plan should not be thought of as a rigid blueprint, but rather as a general guide for sensible development and appropriate conservation steps in Woodbridge’s future. The proposals of the Plan do not have the authority of law or regulation; instead they are general recommendations for future development and improvement of Woodbridge over the next decade and beyond. The [POCD] reflects the goals for the future of Woodbridge at a particular point in time, informed by the present economic conditions, values, lifestyles, and goals of the community.”

The time is soon at hand to begin preparing the next iteration of this document. What will the future of the POCD envision for Woodbridge?