I would like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season. As we pause at year’s end to reflect, spend time with family and friends, and think about the coming year, I am reminded of how special our small town is. By continuing to work together and keeping the lines of communication open, I am hopeful that the coming year will be another good one for our Town.
Annual Budget Setting
Now that December has begun, our Town government’s annual budget setting process is well underway for the next fiscal year (which will begin July 1st). As your First Selectman, I’d like to share some information about this process and ask you, as always, to continue providing me with your feedback and thoughts on these as well as other matters of concern to you.
Earlier this fall, I met with department heads to set out some guidelines, and encourage each of them to look for any cost-savings they might be able to suggest, as well as areas where we may be able to bring in additional revenue. We will consider all suggestions! It is of course, critically important that we leave no stone unturned in our search for ways to save taxpayer money here in Woodbridge, especially as the State funding picture for next year remains uncertain.
As you read this, the Boards of Selectmen and Finance will have completed the initial consideration of Capital Budget requests that were presented at a pair of Joint meetings, November 30th and December 5th. Next, the Operating Budget requests will be presented in a similar set of meetings in January and February. I would like to encourage members of the public to tune-in to our cable access Channel 79, and learn more about how the budget is set -- please refer to the Town website for the schedule of our budget meetings and links to the video recordings of these and many other meetings that can be viewed online at WoodbridgeCT.org.
Community Input in Budgeting Process
Our Town’s various Boards and Commissions play an important role in our budget development process that I would like to highlight for you. As you may know, in our Town of Woodbridge we rely on members of the community to volunteer their time serving on Boards and Commissions. This enables our Town government to receive guidance directly from residents who both receive and pay for the services our Town provides.
For example, members of our Human Services Commission focus their attention on the many initiatives and offerings the Town provides to ensure the availability of health and social service programs for the elderly, youth, and other vulnerable members of our community. The Human Services Department includes the Senior Center and Youth Services Bureau as well as programs such as the Food and Fuel Fund, and the Emergency Food Closet. Throughout the year, the Commission meets to review programs, assess, and evaluate community needs.
When it comes time to prepare the Department’s annual Operating Budget request, members of the Commission ask probing questions and receive detailed explanations from the Department staff members who directly manage programs. In this way, the Commission’s budget request is carefully vetted and the Department’s needs are balanced with opportunities that can be pursued for potential external funding sources, such as grants and shared service opportunities.
Once each Board or Commission votes to approve a budget request, the Boards of Selectmen and Finance can be assured that a close examination has already taken place to determine what is needed, as well as what is top priority, given all possible available funding. This process results in a well-informed recommendation by both Commission and staff members who are the experts for what should be considered for inclusion in the Town’s Operating Budget. At the Operating Budget meetings, staff members present and Commission members also attend, so both are available to answer any questions that may arise. The public is also welcome (and encouraged) to attend all budget meetings.
Once the Capital and Operating Budget requests are presented, the members of the Boards of Selectmen and Finance will conduct their own evaluation of the Town’s funding priorities. Following review by the Board of Selectmen at a meeting (currently scheduled for February 20th), a Request for Appropriation will be transmitted to the Board of Finance no later than March 1st. The Board of Finance will then review this Request at its meeting on March 7th and they are set to act on the budget by April 1st.
The Board of Finance’s recommendation is then sent to the Preliminary Budget Hearing, which will take place on April 23rd. At this meeting an overview presentation on the Recommended Budget will be made, and the public will have another opportunity to review and comment.
Our Annual Town Meeting will take place on Monday, May 21st to conclude the annual budget setting process with final approval. Residents are again invited and encouraged to join us.
I hope the information I have shared with you helps you to appreciate how much thought and hard work goes in to guiding the budget process each year. Much activity takes place in the many months that precede the Annual Town Meeting. I am particularly thankful to all the volunteers serving on our Boards and Commissions, as well as all our dedicated Town staff members, who devote their time and attention to this process. Working together, the process of setting our annual Town Budget both represents and serves the community of Woodbridge.
Beth Heller is Woodbridge First Selectman. She may be reached by phone at Town Hall, 203-389-3401, or by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org