With the revaluation of real estate in Woodbridge, many residents want to know what their tax bill will be in the next fiscal year that begins July 1. Property tax bills will not automatically increase by the same percentage that your home's assessment increased. Instead, with the substantial increase in real estate assessments, the mill rate will drop. The mill rate multiplied by the assessed value of a taxpayer's home and vehicle(s) equals the total property tax bill.

The Board of Finance sets the mill rate once the Town budget is approved. Many of you have shared with me your concern about increasing taxes - please know that I will urge my fellow Selectmen and the Board of Finance to pare down the Town budget (and associated mill rate) as much as possible.

The Town's budget divides into two parts - (1) the yearly expenses for operation, including wages, materials, and utilities, and (2) capital expenditures on vehicles, buildings, and other long-term investments. Much of the operating budget is devoted to education costs, both for Beecher Road School and the Amity Regional School District. The Amity Board of Education has sole responsibility for developing their school system's budget, while the Boards of Selectmen and Finance review the Woodbridge Board of Education's budget request for Beecher Road School.

The Boards of Selectmen and Finance are now meeting with department heads and the Woodbridge Board of Education to review their budget requests. We also sought input from residents on the capital requests at the Capital Budget Forum held Jan.19.

Based on the requests, and a guesstimate of the Amity system's budget proposal, the mill rate will drop several points from its current level. It is too early to know the exact mill rate, as the Boards of Selectmen and Finance will reject some requests in order to minimize the budget and resulting mill rate. In turn, the Amity Board of Education will release its budget proposal in early March.

The resulting "preliminary budget" will be mailed to all households in March, together with notice of the Preliminary Budget Hearing. Please watch for the notice in the mail.

On Monday, April 11, the Board of Finance will hold the Preliminary Budget Hearing, beginning at 7:30 p.m.in the Center Gym. I encourage you to participate and offer your comments and concerns. You may also comment by phone (389-3400), or in writing (to Town Hall).

After the hearing, the Board of Finance will make its final recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2006 budget and associated mill rate, factoring in the latest budget information from Amity. We will then mail the "Recommended Budget" summary to all households, with a notice of the Annual Town Meeting. At the Annual Town Meeting, scheduled for Monday, May 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the Center Gym, taxpayers may vote on the Recommended Budget if a quorum of 250 taxpayers is present. Separately, Amity will hold a referendum on its budget proposal. Once the Amity and Town budget proposals are finalized, the Board of Finance will set the mill rate.

Throughout this process, I will urge my fellow selectmen, the Board of Finance, and the Amity Board of Education to keep costs to a minimum, for the sake of taxpayers. We must continue to offer good value for taxpayers' hard-earned dollars. Please call me at 389-3400 if you have any questions regarding the budget process.

Amey Marrella is Woodbridge First Selectwoman