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Thursday, October 14, 2010

FROM WALLINGFORD - Cost higher but choice is right

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday October 10, 2010

Jason Zandri


Wallingford hired an architectural firm that specializes in public safety designs to do a feasibility study regarding the volunteer fire station on North Farms Road which is at its maximum functional capacity.

Should Wallingford utilize the property that it already has to address the current capacity issues but not necessarily address additional future growth? The town could do this and it would save some tax dollars currently in a tough economy but is it the best plan overall? Does it make sense to address additional expansion needs someday down the road when property and construction costs will be more expensive?

Should the town purchase the 11.2-acre Cichowski property at 866 North Farms Road and put the volunteer fire station there? This would be more costly but it does address current AND future expansion needs. The Town Council approved purchasing that property last September for $850,000, with an additional $154,000 budgeted for site cleanup. Building on North Farms Road would cost $6.6 million compared to about $5.2 million for building a new station on the current Barnes Road site.

Wallingford should purchase the Cichowski property and use it for this effort. There is plenty of housing stock in town right now for people that desire to buy an established home. I do not think we necessarily need more residential property developed for the type of housing that would go in that area. It would not be affordable housing; it would most likely be larger type homes.

I am not opposed to building more homes or trying to discourage further construction. On the contrary, I think that land owners should be allowed to do what they want with their land within the zoning regulations. I simply feel that as of right now there is adequate supply to meet the current demand.

Specific concerns of the residents in the area regarding this project should be taken into consideration as they will be directly affected. Any decisions then should be made after weighing that input and what is the best thing for the town in total.

Going the North Farms route will cost more. Wallingford is in a very good financial situation with a healthy budget balance and an excellent credit rating to bond out for this if that should be desired. Some people will point out that it makes sense to use the 1.78-acre Barnes Road site or another area in the industrial zone. That requires moving the Fire Department while new building is under construction and it doesn’t allow for future growth. That’s additional cost now and when expansion is again needed it will cost much more as costs will rise and we will not have planned properly for future growth.

Industrial land should be leveraged by private entities rather than the town. We talk about the concerns of taking residential property off the tax rolls for municipal use. Commercial and industrial properties bring in more tax revenue to the town than what residential properties do. They tend not to add additional burden to the tax base in the same ways. As an example, new residential construction tends to add net new families that can add to the costs of the education budget which is two thirds the total town budget.

A new firehouse is needed — the case for this has already been made and has been agreed upon; this will happen.

Decisions and actions on it call for smart planning and should allow for future Fire Department growth.

The Town Council and the administration needs to decide what’s the best total strategy and what is going to be the best return on investment for Wallingford taxpayers in the long run.

We should not be looking to save a dime today to only spend a dollar down the road. We need to make careful decisions that will minimize that future cost as much as possible while balancing the cost burden for today.

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