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Sunday, February 13, 2011

FROM WALLINGFORD - Grand List consequences

As published in the Record Journal, Sunday February 13, 2011

          by Jason Zandri       Jason Suit

Changes in area Grand Lists were recently outlined in a story in the Record Journal. Meriden showed slight growth in 2009 of 0.31 percent which was their best year since 2007. In Cheshire the increase was 0.52 percent. Southington finished up 1.17 percent.

A recent article in the New Haven Register outlined that even the City of New Haven showed a respectable 2.97 percent increase over 2009.
Things may not be back to 2007 levels but they are better than they were last year.

Here in Wallingford the Grand List went down 3.04 percent over 2009, the first decline in 25 years. (2008 to 2009 was effectively a wash at just a slight uptick.) Mayor Dickinson was quoted in the paper saying “This isn’t a rainy day — it’s a rainy decade.”

No it’s not.

2008 and the start of 2009 — sure, I can agree with that. It seemed as if the rain was never going to end. Times were the worst they have been since the Great Depression; “were” being the operative word.

Yes, unemployment is still sitting at 9 percent and that only counts the people collecting. The real number of unemployed / underemployed is 16 percent. These still are high rates but they are improved from the worst of it.

I am not suggesting that everyone go out and do the Snoopy dance. It is not going to be sunshine, rainbows, and dogs and cats living together in harmony forevermore. Certainly not right away.

Just like the winter we’re experiencing currently, it is still here and who knows how long the snow is going to stick around. Even after it’s gone there will be a ton to clean up. Repairs will continue into the summer.

Having said all that, the corner has been turned. To keep looking back is a waste of energy and shows a lack of proper direction. Also, continually having a downbeat outlook often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So what is our plan? We have great schools, competitive taxes and the lowest electric rates in New England. It’s the same tune we’ve been singing for the past quarter century. So why are we experiencing additional contraction in our Grand List? Can’t the general public hear us singing our siren song anymore?

Take another look at the numbers above. Our downdraft in the Grand List is pretty significant especially when you consider it has occurred AFTER everyone else has clearly begun their respective, slight recoveries.

When you consider that and the fact that we have things to offer that other towns cannot you have to ask yourself “isn’t it time we took another look at our playbook”?

Wallingford does many smart things and they have worked well for years. I wouldn’t suggest changing anything that still works. There are clearly things that no longer work the way they used to and we do need to look at changing up our game.

We are competing with the likes of Cheshire, Meriden and North Haven for new residents and businesses and the tax dollars (and the tax costs) that come with them.

We need to be proactively going after them, courting them if you will.
We can’t rely on old standbys anymore of “our taxes are low and we have the best electric rates.”

Our taxes are lower but the disparity isn’t what it once was and the same is true of our electric rates; they are cheaper but not as much cheaper as they once were.

These things alone are clearly not enough to entice new families and businesses to make Wallingford their home.

If our town is to grow and prosper we must move forward proactively; we will not be able to continue to do it as we have in the past. The game has changed and if we are to keep playing we need to roll with the change and tackle it head on.

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