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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wallingford official admits wood disposal mistake

As published in the Record Journal Friday January 27, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — Responding to a town councilor’s concerns, Public Works Director Henry McCully admitted Thursday that some wood cut from town parks has been disposed of improperly.

McCully said it was due to a misreading of a contract with Randy Mangino, a public works employee. The wood has since been returned.

“The wood has been brought back to Garden Road (the Public Works yard),” McCully said. “We corrected that. It was an error on my side.”

Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democrat, had sent a memo to McCully asking him to look into a report from someone who saw town trucks making several trips with cut wood to a site the wood was not usually taken to. McCully replied several days later that he had “investigated your ‘missing wood’ complaint.”

The wood was cut from Jan. 3 to Jan. 9 and included the cleanup of several town parks after a late October snowstorm. Wood was removed from Pire Park, Marcus Cooke Park, Lufberry Park, Bertini Park, Wallace Park and Kendrick Park.

McCully said that the wood was delivered to Garden Road, the Public Works yard on Town Farm Road and a disposal site owned by Mangino.

Mangino has a contract with the town which allows it to use his disposal site for clean fill and debris. But McCully wrote in a Jan. 23 letter responding to Economopoulos, “Randy Mangino’s contract does not allow him to receive wood generated from our parks cleanup.”

Corporation Counsel Janis Small said that the Town Charter doesn’t prevent town employees from bidding on a contract.

“No officer or employee shall enter into any contract with the Town other than a contract of employment, unless the contract has been awarded through an open and public process,” the charter reads.

McCully also said that the practice of town employees taking wood home from the Public Works yard has been stopped. Some of the excess wood the town cut had been stored in the yard in the past, and employees would take small amounts home to help clean up the yard.

Reached Thursday, Economopoulos said he was still looking into the matter, and wouldn’t comment further until he had “all the information.”

The October snowstorm resulted in an abnormally large amount of debris, McCully said. Once the town finishes cleaning out its parks and other properties, the disposal of the wood will likely go out to bid. McCully said that with so much wood already available, having the town sell it back isn’t a viable option.

“The market is already so saturated,” he said.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Keeping jobs unfilled yields town surplus

As published in the Record Journal, Thursday January 26, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — The town ended the 2010-11 fiscal year with a surplus largely due to town employee positions’ remaining unfilled, a practice that has become more common in tough fiscal times. According to an audit of Wallingford’s finances released in December, the town ended the fiscal year $671,000 in the black. But a large amount of the surplus can be attributed to the retirement of 10 town employees who weren’t replaced.

“No amounts were budgeted for 10 open positions in the General Government: three in Public Works, three in the Comptroller’s office and four police officers,” the audit said. “These positions were vacated by retired employees and will probably remain unfilled until the economy recovers.”

In the current fiscal year, the Police Department’s salaries budget was cut by $170,106. Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio said Wednesday he wouldn’t be asking for additional officers in next year’s budget. The request has been denied in the past. The department has 71 sworn officers, including Dortenzio, and a total of 91 positions including clerical staff.

Dortenzio said that when a position remains vacant for a year, it is generally eliminated from the budget. Staffing is down about 6 percent from a couple of years ago, he said.

The department has had to shift officers around and make changes, including reducing the size of the detective bureau, to get more uniformed officers on the street.

“We do the best we can with what we have,” Dortenzio said. But, he noted, “the town has grown, and we have not kept pace.”

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said that, in tough economic times, the town has had to cut back to avoid increases in taxes, and he doesn’t expect many new hires.

“Chances are, some, if not all of these positions will remain unfilled,” Dickinson said. “The police no longer has a DARE program; Public Works has lost positions that handled landscaping duties.” But John Sullivan, a Democratic town councilor, said he doesn’t think a surplus matters if it comes at the expense of public safety officers.

“I always have concerns about police, fire and emergency response,” he said.

According to the audit, public safety expenditures in 2010-11 were $708,000 below budget due to $412,000 less in police wages, “due to the time lag in replacing employees who retired or resigned and less overtime.”

Dickinson said that the town isn’t getting any new money, and that, short of a large increase in the grand list, services have to be trimmed.

He said the departments have been continuing to provide services but that they’ve had to “get back to core missions.”

“Just the essentials,” Dickinson said.

Sullivan said that other budgets have ended in a surplus for similar reasons, and the extra money isn’t always a good sign. “This is typical every budget year,” he said. “And who is the big loser? The people in Wallingford.”

Dickinson countered by saying that the $671,000 surplus didn’t tell the whole story, and that $4 million to $5 million of the town’s general fund was used to cover expenses and stave off a tax increase.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wallingford Town Council - Swearing in Ceremony

Dickinson urged to activate insurance panel

As published in the Record Journal, Wednesday January 25, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos made his case Tuesday night for the town to revive its long-dormant Insurance Commission.

The commission was created by a town ordinance in 1986 to assist the town in insurance matters, but has never had any members. A risk management office created in 1987 took over some of the duties that the commission had been tasked with carrying out.

But Economopoulos, a Democrat, said during a public hearing on repealing or amending the ordinance that insuring the town and its employees is a complex issue, and that those types of decisions should not be made by one or two people.

“Insurance is a very intricate and difficult thing to understand,” Economopoulos said. “Our premiums (for health insurance) are $45 million over the next two years. ... I think it’s a wise thing to add some more eyes.”

Health insurance is the second costliest item in the town budget after salaries, Economopoulos said.

The ordinance states, in part: “Due to conditions of instability and dysfunction in the procuring and maintaining of insurance coverage for the Town of Wallingford , the Town Council has determined that a separate and dedicated advisory commission in the area of insurance coverage is warranted and desirable.”

One of the responsibilities of the commission, which would comprise five members appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council, is to “investigate alternative sources for insurance coverage and/or evaluate options of self-insurance versus purchased coverage.”

The town became self-insured in 2008 when it faced an 8 percent rate increase by Anthem Blue Cross, a change that saved millions of dollars. But Economopoulos said that a study done 14 years earlier had referenced the potential change, and that the town “missed the boat” on millions of additional savings.

Self-insurance is generally cheaper than full insurance because the town, rather than the insurance company, accepts the risk of covering employees. Under self-insurance, the insurance company simply acts as a third-party claims administrator. Anthem was awarded the third-party administrator contract.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said the town analyzed self-insurance options in the 1990s, but there were some concerns about making the switch for “good, solid reasons,” and that it wasn’t in the best interest of the town at the time. The town needed to have sufficient money in reserves before it could make the switch to self-insurance.

“It did not sit well with the finance department at that time,” Dickinson said. “It was touch-and-go as to whether there were sufficient funds.”

Dickinson also said that health insurance is largely a collective bargaining matter, and not something for a group of laypeople to oversee. It’s a matter for paid experts, he said. The commission, Dickinson said, was originally established to handle property/casualty insurance, but not health coverage.

Two residents, Wesley Lubee Jr. and William Comerford, filed an ethics complaint in 2008 against Dickinson for not appointing anyone to the commission, but the complaint was dismissed when no probable cause was found. Both spoke in favor of filling the commission Tuesday night. Public comment at the meeting lasted nearly two hours.

“I think this was a great conversation here tonight,” Democratic Councilor John Sullivan said. “I have to commend Councilor Economopoulos for bringing this documentation and presenting it to the council. There is a lot here to review.”

The council will continue the public hearing at its Feb. 28 meeting.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fontana to challenge Fasano for Assembly seat

As published in the Record Journal Tuesday January 24, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

— For the first time since he was voted into office in 2002, state Sen. Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, will have an opponent as he seeks re-election.

Democrat Steve Fontana, a former state representative from North Haven, announced Monday on the steps of Town Hall that he will challenge Fasano in the 34th District, which encompasses Wallingford, East Haven and parts of North Haven and Durham.

“There are too many politicians in Hartford that aren’t helping,” Fontana told a crowd of supporters, including state legislators and local Democratic leaders.

Fontana said he wants to focus on rebuilding the middle class and “restoring the American dream for everyone.”

No stranger to politics, Fontana, 48, served for 14 years as the representative of North Haven’s 87th General Assembly District. He lost his seat to Republican Dave Yaccarino by a little more than 1,000 votes in 2010. Earlier he had served on a number of boards and commissions in North Haven, including the Board of Selectmen.

Wallingford Democratic Town Chairman Vincent Avallone said he was pleased to see a qualified candidate step up to challenge Fasano.

“I’m glad to see someone of Steve Fontana’s caliber running,” Avallone said. “He has a history of working with people. He’s come from modest means; he knows what the middle class is like.”

Walter Spader, vice chairman of the North Haven Democratic Town Committee, said Fontana is “a dream candidate.”

“You don’t often get that record of achievement and accomplishment,” Spader said. “He has a good record.”

Addressing the crowd, Fontana said it was “time for a change.”

“Let’s make it happen,” he said. “Let’s work together to make this a reality.”

Fontana said he decided to run because “I believe strongly in public service, in giving back.” He attributed his 2010 loss to voters being “frustrated, fed up and they wanted a change.”

A seat in the state Senate, Fontana said, will allow him to work on policy that will have a greater regional impact. He hopes to work toward reducing health care and energy costs, he said.

Reached by telephone, Fasano said he has a record of standing up for the middle class.

“I’ve always fought for the middle class,” he said. “The tax hikes Steve has voted for hurt the middle class. The billion dollar tax hike by the governor crippled the middle class.”

Fasano said he is working to make Connecticut more job friendly, that strict regulations and “an onerous tax burden” are driving businesses and jobs out of the state.

On a personal level, Fasano called Fontana “a good guy” and said he welcomed the challenge.

“Competition is healthy,” Fasano said.

Having an opponent won’t drastically change his campaign or his message to voters, Fasano said. “It’s not going to change what I do and who I am,” he said.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Will it be a lot — or not? Wallingford - Wooding Caplan

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday January 24, 2012

Feasibility study on parking plan due in March

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

— Town councilors will receive a report in March on the feasibility of converting the Wooding-Caplan property into a temporary parking lot.

In a letter to the council Jan. 13, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said cost estimates and drawings would be produced by March 20.

“After discussion with the Engineering Department, we believe that information including estimates and drawings regarding improvements to the Caplan/Wooding property will be completed by March 20th this year,” Dickinson wrote.

Councilor John LeTourneau, a Republican, pushed for the report at the council’s last meeting on Jan. 10. Le-Tourneau said Monday that he is proposing the town use leftover millings from road work to create the temporary lot.

When new paving is done, the surface of the road is ground up, LeTounreau said. Those millings are kept by the town, with most sold back to Tilcon, a local paving company. LeTourneau said the millings could be held, reground and rolled out into a fresh, blacktop-like surface.

“It’s recycling the road surface,” LeTourneau said. “It’s cheaper and it’s temporary until we decide what to do.”

The town bought the Wooding- Caplan property, located downtown off Center Street, for $1.5 million in 1992, but it has remained largely vacant since. A referendum in 2006 overturned the Town Council’s decision to sell the property to a local developer.

Town Engineer John Thompson said the Engineering Department is “actively working” on the report, but there are factors that need to be examined before drawings can be done.

“We’re looking at all the opportunities and the constraints, and there are a number on both sides,” Thompson said. “The focus of what we’re doing is to come up with a scheme to analyze temporary parking.”

Some of the constraints Thompson mentioned included where the town property ends and where private property begins, easements, drainage and issues of access.

In 2008, the council received a space needs assessment that determined the parcel was big enough for a new 47,000 square-foot police headquarters, but at a cost of more than $20 million. No action has been taken since.

The report is in the early stages, and Thompson admitted “we don’t know where it’s going to end up going.”

Craig Fishbein, a Republican councilor, said temporary parking is good “for the time being,” but that he’d like to see development. He pushed unsuccessfully at the Jan. 10 meeting to have the Law Department review the 2005 request for proposal to sell the property and bring it back before the council next month.

“We as a municipality are privileged to own this property, it is a shame that it has been neglected,” he said. “I’m looking to reverse that wasteful course.”

Not all councilors were in favor of the temporary parking idea. Republican Thomas Laffin said that he’d rather see something more permanent. A temporary lot will create dependence, he said.

“People will get used to parking there,” he said. “You can’t just rip up the parking.”

Laffin said he’d rather have the council commit to a longterm plan.

“Not just a temporary plan while we figure things out. ... How about we figure it out now?” he said.

LeTourneau, who runs Wallingford Lamp and Shade on Center Street, said he hears often that there isn’t enough downtown parking available, particularly in the evening hours. The temporary parking lot is “a very high priority” for him.

But LeTourneau also said the fact that Wallingford is faced with a parking shortage is a good thing.

“It means that you have a vibrant downtown,” he said.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

State of the town: ‘No time to relax,’ says Dickinson

As published in the Record Journal, Saturday January 21, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. delivers his “state of the town” speech at Ashlar Village Friday.

Photo courtesy of the Record Journal

imageWALLINGFORD — While 2011 was a tough year, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said Friday that the town fared well, but can’t rest on its laurels.

Displaying a photograph of the cruise ship that recently ran aground off the coast of Italy, Dickinson said running the town “requires constant effort” and vigilance.

“There’s no time to relax,” he said during his annual State of the Town address to members of the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce. “It can be exhausting. It takes patience and hard work. It’s nothing you can sit back and relax on.”

During the event at Ashlar Village, Dickinson said the town had “a lot to feel good about.”

“Tropical Storm Irene and Snowstorm Alfred taxed the limits of local government, but we came through those in good shape,” he said. “Our structures held up well.”

Also in 2011, the town received a AAA bond rating — higher, Dickinson noted, than the credit rating of the United States. “I never thought I’d see that,” he said.

The town’s fiscal health, Dickinson said, can be attributed to one factor. “People pay their taxes,” he said.

Dickinson also praised the school system, noting that test scores had increased and that reconfiguration of the elementary schools led to “a greater racial balance” across the district. The Electric Division, he said, has kept rates low and outages infrequent.

Dickinson praised the Economic Development Commission for bringing new businesses to town. Among the businesses that have opened or expanded are Paradise Hill Vineyards, CVS, United Concrete, Holo-Krome, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Burns & McDonnell.

James Augur, of Anthem, said that the company has moved 300 employees to its new offices at the Campus at Greenhill on Leigus Road. The remainder of its North Haven staff would move to Wallingford by the fall.

“Wallingford is our new home, and we couldn’t be any happier,” Augur said.

Dickinson said state and federal deficits burden municipalities, often going hand in hand with costly mandates that are partially funded or not funded at all. Some recent regulations being discussed, such as removing more nitrogen from rivers and streams, could cost the town millions and should be postponed.

Robin Wilson, president of the Quinnipiac Chamber, gave her assessment of 2011 and her outlook for the coming year in more blunt terms.

“I think 2012 is going to be a lot better than 2011,” she said. “It couldn’t be much worse.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

This Week in Wallingford

As published in the Record Journal, Monday January 23, 2012

WALLINGFORD — The Town Council will meet Tuesday to hold a public hearing on repealing an ordinance that established the town’s Insurance Commission.

Monday : No meetings scheduled.

Tuesday : Town Council, 6:30 p.m., Earley Auditorium, Town Hall, 45 S. Main St.

Wednesday : No meetings scheduled.

Thursday : Wallingford Housing Authority, 5:30 p.m., Housing Authority Offices, 45 Tremper Drive.

Friday : No meetings scheduled.

Insurance company closes its portion of Simpson Court parking lot to public

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — Two months after a referendum overturned the Town Council’s decision to spend up to $500,000 to improve the parking lot behind the businesses on Simpson Court in exchange for keeping the lot public, one property owner has made good on his promise to close his portion of the lot to municipal parking.

When the new lease agreement with owners of the four properties abutting the lot was reversed, the town and the property owners reverted to a year-to-year agreement already in place that offered public parking in exchange for plowing and other maintenance by the town.

Jack McGuire, CEO of local insurance company Ferguson and McGuire, owns two of the four properties through a limited liability company, one at 2 N. Main St. and another at 26 N. Main St. He filed his notice to quit the year-to-year agreement in 2009. Shortly after that, he withdrew his notice orally, but not in writing.

“My response would be to treat my property as private property and restrict it to people who use my buildings, period,” McGuire said in August, when asked of his plans if the parking lot deal fell through. “Why should I be maintaining the property for other people? If the town is not going to come in and maintain it as a public parking lot, then I’m going to treat it as a private parking lot.”

McGuire was in Florida on Thursday and could not be reached for comment. But lines drawn on the asphalt at Simpson Court and new parking signs make it clear that the lot has been divided between private and public.

At the point where McGuire’s property ends is painted a white line, with “town” written on one side, and “private” written on the other. Public parking signs which used to sit alongside Center Street near the entrance of the parking lot have been moved to the property line, with arrows designating that public parking begins on the portion of the lot behind Gaetano’s Tavern on Main, 40 N. Main St.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said that McGuire contacted the town and requested that the Police Department move the signs last week.

“The signs were moved so it was clear that it was private,” he said. “He’s absolutely free to do that, he canceled the lease.”

It’s unclear what, if any, enforcement action McGuire will take against stray parkers, but Dickinson noted that, on private property, “the owner can have those cars towed.”

If any of the other businesses were to consider charging or limiting access to the lot, they would have to give the town a one-year notice.

Closing off the parking lot could also jeopardize a right of way that has existed between Center and Church streets, traveling through the lot and behind the buildings.

Dickinson said that McGuire has “expressed his consideration of closing that off.”

In a tough economy, Dickinson said losing any municipal parking “hurts the downtown area.”

“There’s no question it’s not a good direction,” he said. “Any change that can be potentially a discouragement to frequent an area is a natural subject of concern.”

Dickinson said that after Monday night’s snowstorm, the town did not plow McGuire’s lot.

Robert Gross, a resident who has run unsuccessfully for the council, started a petition drive a day after the council’s decision, raising the 2,491 signatures needed to force the referendum. Gross declined to comment Thursday on McGuire’s decision.

Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democratic councilor who worked with Gross on the petition, said Thursday he had no comment on McGuire’s decision beyond the fact that it “showed his character.”

“It makes me feel good that we didn’t go into a partnership with him,” he said.

Dickinson said that the full impact of the referendum vote hasn’t likely been seen.

“The potential for a more dramatic shutoff (of the lot) hasn’t been realized,” he said.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wallingford 2012-2013 Initial Proposed Education Budget 01/09/12

Posted 01/10/2012 07:02AM

2012-2013 Initial Proposed Budget 01/09/12 Presented at the BOE Operations Committee Meeting (PDF)


Meetings for the purpose of holding workshops for the 2012-2013 Educational Budget have been scheduled. The public is cordially invited to attend.

Schedule of Special Operations Committee Meetings for Budget Workshops

  • Saturday         January 21, 2012 
    8:00 a.m. – Budget Review for all Departments
  • Wednesday    January 25, 2012                  
    6:00 p.m. – Budget Review (if needed)

All workshops will be held in the Community room at the Vo-Ag Department at Lyman Hall High school unless noted otherwise.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

WHA board looks to avoid repeat

As published in the Record Journal, Thursday January 12, 2012

By Dan Ivers
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2275

WALLINGFORD — Members of the Wallingford Housing Authority board began crafting a job description for its next executive director Wednesday in the hope of avoiding many of the pitfalls that led the last director to leave the position.

The position has been vacant since Dec. 2, when 26year veteran Stephen Nere accepted a $130,000 buyout amid mismanagement allegations. Nere’s deputy director, Theresa Ravizza, resigned shortly thereafter.

Board Chairman Michael Misiti and members Thomas Mezzei, Robert G. Weidenmann and Patricia Hogan began writing the job description, which included a responsibility to meet all federal, state and local codes, a requirement to produce a detailed report at the board’s request, and to oversee and account for the use of all funds the authority receives.

A forensic audit of the agency’s financial records from 2006 to 2008, conducted last year, uncovered major gaps in accounting, as well as inconsistencies in purchasing practices and employee travel reimbursements.

Hogan also suggested that the description include a requirement to document all mileage expenses, although Misiti said that would be covered under the board’s policies. Nere had sued Hogan and other members of the board in 2010, alleging that they violated his contract when they revoked his use of a WHA vehicle to travel between work and his home in Guilford.

Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos, who has closely followed the developments surrounding the WHA, said after the meeting that he believed many of the items in the new description were aimed at ensuring that the director would be a diligent record-keeper who would comply with requests from the board.

“The job description is just an attempt to not have happen to them what happened to the last one,” he said.

The board voted late last month to begin advertising for the director position, and Misiti said it has already received “a lot” of applications, though he did not say how many.

“Only the five people here will know who’s applied, and how many have applied,” he said.

The board has stated that it hopes to fill the position quickly, and may begin conducting interviews as soon as next week. It is also accepting applications from property management companies, which could create cost savings. Nere was making about $100,000 at the time of his buyout.

Members of the media and the public were required to leave the meeting while the board discussed the applications it had received, after which the meeting was adjourned.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cytec second on EPA list of state’s top polluters

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday January 10, 2012

By Dan Ivers
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2275

WALLINGFORD — A local chemical plant has found itself near the top of a list of the state’s top polluters.

Cytec Industries, at 425 S. Cherry St., landed second on the list, behind only the AES Thames power plant in Uncasville. The list was compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency, using 2010 records of toxic releases required to be disclosed under federal law.

According to the EPA, the plant reported releasing 254,927 pounds of toxic materials at the plant during 2010, and another 18,425 off site. Most of the releases were chemicals such as trichloroethane, acrylamide and acrylic acids. The plant managed more than 2.6 million pounds of waste.

Brett Giles, the site manager for the Wallingford plant, said it is one of a handful of specialty chemical plants in New England, which inherently produce more toxic material than other industries. He stressed that the company is in full compliance with all of its state-issued permits, and has significantly reduced its chemical emissions in recent years.

“We’re committed to protecting our environment,” he said. “The state of Connecticut has very stringent permit conditions, and those permits are based on human health assessments. We work inside of those permits.”

A statement issued by the EPA along with the list noted that 287,337 fewer pounds of pollutants were released by New England companies in 2010 than in 2009, largely due to efforts to reduce damage to the environment.

EPA officials said the report did not mean the high levels of pollution were violating any law, but wanted to make the information public for those who might live or work close to the plants. The 250-acre Wallingford Cytec plant is adjacent to a largely residential neighborhood.

State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, who lives on South Cherry Street close to the plant, said that emissions at the plant have likely become less harmful to the environment as the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection steps up permitting requirements and other regulations.

“It’s actually gotten better over the years. The complaints have certainly dropped off as the permits are ratcheted up,” she said.

Nevertheless, emissions from the plant have been the object of concern from the community. In 2003, Wallingford Little League abandoned Cytec Field out of concern over the effects of contaminated soil. The only other area company to land on the list is a Tyco Healthcare Group facility in North Haven, which ranked just behind Cytec as the third highest polluter. Cytec’s Wallingford plant employs 150 people, and ranked 10th on the town’s list of biggest taxpayers, paying more than $13.3 million last year. Formerly known as American Cyanamid, it has been operating on the same site since 1941.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Menzo seeks 9% hike in school budget

As published in the Record Journal Tuesday January 10, 2012

By Ibrahim Hirsi
Record-Journal staff

WALLINGFORD — School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo presented his 2012-13 strategic budget proposal to the Board of Education Monday night at Lyman Hall High School.

At $94,576,853, the proposal represents an increase of nearly 9 percent from last year. Menzo’s 2012-13 sustained budget total — $90,188,979 — comes in at nearly 4 percent more than 2011-12’s. The sustained budget represents the minimum required to maintain services at the previous year’s level; the strategic budget reflects the funding needed to act on the school system’s strategic plan.

Last year, the final school budget came back from the mayor’s office with an increase of only about 2 percent over the year before.

Some teachers and parents at the meeting said the increase in the budget request is much needed and should be a priority.

“The country spends billions on wars,” said Lou Faiella, a Wallingford teacher. “Our children are very important and deserve to be spent on. With the sustained budget, the increase that [Menzo] is asking for is a reasonable amount of money.”

Though the new budget would cut 10 elementary and middle-school teacher positions due to enrollment decreases, it would allocate more teachers to the high schools and language programs.

Menzo’s plan includes the acquisition of new and replacement equipment, as well as the continued upgrade of wireless access points and servers throughout the school district; maintenance initiatives that include replacement of the outdoor track and indoor bleachers at Lyman Hall High School; and curriculum development and career readiness resources.

The proposed budget sounds expensive, said Sharon Dooley, a Wallingford teacher, “but the technology is expensive, too. And getting that technology in the hands of the students is important.”

Monday, January 9, 2012

This week in Wallingford

As published in the Record Journal, Monday January 9, 2012

WALLINGFORD — Superintendent Salvatore Menzo will unveil the 2012-2013 school budget proposal at the Board of Education Operations Committee meeting tonight - Monday January 9, 2012

Monday : Board of Education Operations Committee, 6 p.m., Lyman Hall High School, Vo-Ag Community Room, 70 Pond Hill Road.

Tuesday : Regular meeting of the Wallingford Town Council, 6:30 p.m., Town Hall, Auditorium, 45 S. Main St.

Wednesday : Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, 5:30 p.m., Savage Commons, Community Room.

Thursday : Conservation Commission, 7 p.m., Town Hall, Basement Conference Room, 45 S. Main St.

Friday : No meetings scheduled.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Linda Bush to retire - Wallingford town planner since 1983 was sometimes controversial

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday January 4, 2012

By Mary Ellen Godin

— The town’s no-nonsense town planner — who is isn’t afraid to butt heads with developers, zoning violators and town officials — is retiring after 28 years on the job.

Linda A. Bush said Tuesday that she is ready to return to her native Massachusetts to help care for her elderly father and stepmother, care for birds and resume traveling. She has been town planner since 1983.

“Now I can spend more time with my hobbies,” Bush said with a chuckle.

Bush, 60, has received praise for her work in creating the town’s interchange zone, which helped spur economic development, her work overseeing Route 5 expansion and more recently as a pioneer on housing incentive zones — or worker housing — along the planned commuter rail line.

“I have always had a very positive relationship with Linda,” said Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman James Seichter. “She is very knowledgeable, dedicated and diligent; she’s a very valuable employee of the town.”

Seichter praised Bush’s skill at creating regulations that fostered healthy economic growth in the town’s industrial parks and along Route 5 when he first joined the commission in the mid-1990s.

“That was a very positive step the town took,” Seichter said. “I’m sure Linda was the point person.”

After graduating from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in zoology, Bush quickly learned that teaching high school and middle school students wasn’t for her. She
went to graduate school at Antioch University’s New England Graduate School in Keene, N.H., where she received a master’s degree in resource management. While in school, she supported herself as a bartender.

“It was the best job I ever had,” Bush said.

She completed an internship at a regional planning agency in Keene and discovered she enjoyed the work. She worked as a planner for the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Council, based in Lebanon, N.H. She later got a full-time planning job in Watertown, N.Y., as a state employee assisting up to 18 communities in Oneida County but returned to her hometown of Westfield, Mass., after the death of her mother. Her sister, who lived in Meriden at the time, found the Wallingford town planner vacancy.

Bush applied and was hired by former Mayor Rocco J. Vumbaco. During her tenure, she’s been faced with routine and controversial applications, including a large horse track in the North Farms Road area, later auto auction, and more recently a disputed mosque on the east side.

The first few years were a challenge. Bush was hired to replace a planning coordinator and aide who had been fired for failing to report alleged conflicts of interest.

“The office was a mess,” Bush said. “It took a lot of time, but we returned it to professionalism and respect. We get compliments all the time from people who come to our counter. I’m straightforward and these are the rules.”

“Everybody has their own opinions,” Seichter said. “When you are someone who has to enforce the regulations, sometimes when you tell people ‘No,’ they take it personally.”

Joan Molloy, a local attorney who represents developers, said she and Bush didn’t always agree on everything, but she always knew where Bush stood. She said Bush’s departure is the town’s loss.

“I always felt I could discuss an application or the possibility of an application and she would respond,” Molloy said. “We treated each other as professionals. I always felt there was an honest discussion.”

Bush has been criticized for being prickly with the people she works with and was suspended for a week last year on a harassment complaint.

“There are different standards for different people in town,” Bush said about the suspension. “And the town can’t say otherwise.”

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Bush said the next town planner will have to pay attention to the impact commuter rail is expected to have on the town and in updating the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.

“I wished we had the incentive housing zone in place,” Bush said. “I hope we have something in place soon, so we don’t miss the opportunity created by the commuter rail.”

Thursday, January 5, 2012

$671G surplus up in Wallingford, but mayor still cautious

As published online at on Wednesday, January 04, 2012

WALLINGFORD — The town finished fiscal 2011 with a $671,000 surplus, compared to $406,000 during the previous fiscal year, according to the annual municipal audit.

Usually, even a modest surplus is reason for some cheer among town officials. But Mayor William Dickinson Jr. said Tuesday that without significant new revenue coming in, the surplus doesn’t tell the whole story.

“I think the town is in sound fiscal health,” Dickinson said. “But our fiscal decisions are dependent upon the local taxpayer footing the bill and the worry is there is not an indication of new revenue coming in. So, we’ve got to be very cautious about how we spend.”

Dickinson acknowledged he won’t know for certain whether the town’s tax revenue will increase until the end of this month, when Wallingford files its grand list with the state. Last year, for the first time since Dickinson took office in 1986, the town’s overall value of taxable property went down.

The audit also revealed that the town’s net assets — which represents the combined dollar value of government and business activity — increased by $3.43 million to $353.48 million in fiscal 2011, which ended last June 30, said James Bowes, Wallingford’s comptroller.

“The fact that out assets are still growing, given the difficult nature of the economy, is good news,” Bowes said.

The town’s debt load decreased by nearly $2.74 million in fiscal 2011.

Call Luther Turmelle at 203-789-5706 or follow him on Twitter @LutherTurmelle. To receive breaking news first, text the word NHNEWS to 22700. *Msg+data rates may apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Christmas tree pickup starts Monday January 9, 2012

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday January 4, 2012

WALLINGFORD — The town’s Public Works Department will begin picking up Christmas trees in all sections of town on Monday, Jan. 9.

Residents are asked to place their trees at the curbside on Sunday, Jan. 8. Trees are to be clean of ornaments, bows, tinsel etc. No plastic bags or wreaths will be picked up.

This is a one-time pick-up.

Those who miss the deadline may bring their tree to the town’s compost area at no charge until Jan. 14 during normal business hours for the recycling center: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

The compost area will be closed from Jan. 16 to March 15.

McKay to chair Wallingford school board

 As published in the Record Journal Wednesday January 4, 2012

— Ibrahim Hirsi

WALLINGFORD — The Board of Education elected Roxane McKay chairwoman, Joseph Marrone as vice chairman and Michael Votto secretary Tuesday night during an organizational meeting. 

McKay, 53, said after the election that she is honored and proud to have been elected the chairwoman of the Board of Education. “I appreciate the confidence that you have shown and voting for me,” McKay said. “At this point we all know that we are here for the same reasons and its collaborative efforts.”

Marrone, a father of three who is serving his second term in the Board of Education, said it was humbling to be elected.

Swearing in ceremony - Wallingford Town Council Jan 2, 2012

Pictures from the Swearing in ceremony for the Wallingford Town Council can be seen via my Facebook page as well as publicly over on on my SkyDrive.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

WALLINGFORD - Parcel’s fate still fuel for debate

As published in the Record Journal, Monday January 2, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said recently that construction of a new police station isn’t likely next year on the town-owned Wooding-Caplan property, and town councilors have differing opinions on the future of the parcel.

The town bought the 3.5acre property for $1.5 million in 1992, but it has remained largely vacant since. A referendum in 2006 overturned the Town Council’s decision to sell the property to a local developer.

In the five years since the referendum, the fate of the property has continued to be a hot topic. A space needs assessment conducted in 2008 determined that the parcel was big enough for a new 47,000square-foot police headquarters, but at a cost of more than $20 million. No action has been taken since.

“I don’t think the economy is in the condition to support a major project,” Dickinson said. “It’s unlikely this coming year.” But some councilors questioned the need for a police station downtown at a time when officers use vehicles rather than walking a beat, and most want to see action on the land, and soon.

Councilor John LeTourneau, a Republican, said he’s “totally against the police station” on the property, and would like to see it sold to a developer. In the meantime, he’s proposing the town work to create a temporary parking lot on the land. Craig Fishbein, a Republican, said he wants to see the new council take up the issue.

“It’s my intent to have Wooding-Caplan come before the Town Council very soon,” Fishbein said.

Fishbein said he’d like to see a panel study the property and come up with a proposal or “put it out to bid and sell it,” he said.

“I’d like to have the property developed in some manner,” Fishbein said. “I’d like to see the property added to the downtown. The time has come.”

Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democrat, in October had proposed a town wide Wooding-Caplan

commission, but it was never started. Economopoulos said this week he’d still like to see that commission created.

“We need to have some kind of committee brainstorm to see what they want to do,” he said.

Asked for his own proposal, Economopoulos said he’d like to see moderate housing there for “empty-nesters.”

“I’m close to being an empty-nester myself,” he said. “I’d like to be back downtown.” Democratic Councilor John Sullivan said the town must “fish or cut bait,” on the police station proposal.

“If it’s not going to be a police station, something needs to be done,” he said.

Sullivan said it was another example of the town “dragging its feet on a property,” and pointed to how long it took before action was taken on the building at 390 Center St., which the town bought in the early 1990s. It was finally demolished in 2008.

Jason Zandri, a Democrat elected in November, also wants to see Wooding-Caplan revisited. If the decision is made to locate the police station there, something Zandri said should be investigated further, the town should at least keep up the property better, he said.

“For far too long it has been left in a deteriorating state,” Zandri said. “We could do a little maintenance, put up some lights.”

Personally, Zandri said he’d like to see a park with a parking lot on the Wooding-Caplan property, but he’s open to all options and wants to get input from residents on what they’d like to see there. Zandri said that the 2006 referendum didn’t mean voters didn’t want the council to take action on the property, but rather that the proposal brought forward wasn’t something palatable.

“Don’t blame the voters,” he said. “The council never came back with anything else. They never sat down and discussed it again.”

Thomas Laffin, a Republican who will be sworn into the council on Monday, said the parcel has “sat long enough.”

“I want to see a plan,” he said. “If nothing right away, at least to know when.”

Laffin said he is open to the idea of a police station, but he is “partial to development” on the property. He added that he would like to see plans of either before he makes a decision, but ultimately wants some action taken.

“As long as we know where it’s going,” he said. “Right now, it’s just sitting.”

Parisi to serve as council chairman

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday January 3, 2012

By Jesse Buchanan
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2230

WALLINGFORD — Town Council Republican Robert F. Parisi was elected chairman at Monday night’s swearing-in ceremony, but not without opposition from two council Democrats.

Parisi — on the council for more than three decades and with 16 years’ experience as chairman — was chosen on a 6-2 vote. Democrats Nicholas Economopoulos and John J. Sullivan voted against him.

Parisi was in Madrid, Spain, on Monday.

The vote took place at a special Town Council meeting during which Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., town councilors, Board of Education members and Town Clerk Barbara Thompson were sworn in. Republicans nominating Parisi praised his service to the community both on and off the council. Republicans hold six of the nine council seats.

"Bob has been a mentor to myself and others," said Republican Vincent Cervoni. "He’s been a leader in many instances."

"As long as he wants to serve the town, we are fortunate," said Republican Rosemary Rascati.

Sullivan said there were other qualified Republicans he would have preferred as chairman. He said he wanted to see a fresh face as chairman and someone who could "strongly lead this council."

"I'd like to see progressive government," Sullivan said. "I think Bob has had his time."

Jason Zandri, a Democrat elected in November and taking his seat on the council after his second campaign, voted in favor of Parisi. Zandri said he might have voted for another nominee if one had been put forward.

"I wanted to vote for someone," Zandri said. "No one put anybody else up to consider, and I wanted to vote."

Zandri and Thomas Laffin, a Republican, took their seats on the council for the first time on Monday. Both said they were excited to take office and begin tackling town issues.

Laffin said he had worked hard to get elected, but that he knew the work "was only just starting."

Zandri said he’s hoping to help resolve issues downtown. "I don’t want this stuff to sit anymore," he said. "We should be discussing it and making plans."

Cervoni, in his second term as councilor, was elected vice­-chairman by unanimous vote Monday. "He has brought stability and common sense to the table," said Rascati, adding that the councilor "plays a mean guitar."

Republican John Le­Tourneau also praised Cervoni. "He doesn’t say a lot on the Town Council, but when he does speak, he speaks volumes," LeTourneau said.

Dickinson addressed the audience after being sworn in, speaking about the seriousness of serving the town, although lightening his remarks with humor.

Monday, January 2, 2012

WALLINGFORD – The week ahead

As published in the Record Journal Monday January 2, 2012
WALLINGFORD —The Town Council will hold a special meeting today (Monday, January 2, 2012) to swear in new members and to hold an election for chairman. Town Council, 8 p.m., auditorium, Town Hall, 45 S. Main St.
Tuesday : Public Utilities Commission, 6:30 p.m., Electric Division, 100 John St.
Wednesday: Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, 7 p.m. Town Hall, Room 315, 45 S. Main St.
Thursday: No meetings scheduled.
Friday: No meetings scheduled.

Wallingford school board: Welcome Back Patrick Reynolds

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday December 27, 2011

Reynolds glad to be back after defeat in 2009

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — After two years off the Board of Education, Patrick Reynolds is eager to rejoin the panel he was first elected to in 2007.

Reynolds, a Democrat, served on the board for one term before he lost his re-election bid in 2009. This time around, Reynolds said he plans to be a more active participant. “I’m going to be a bit more vocal,” he said. “I sat back my first term because it was all new to me. I want to free up my schedule to offer my services for some more committees.”

Reynolds, 58, teaches science at New Britain High School, Central Connecticut State University and Tunxis Community College. While there are no specific burning issues he wants to see addressed, Reynolds said it’s important to make sure that Wallingford’s students continue to be hard workers.

“I’m behind 21st-century technology, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “We need to make sure our young people have a 20th or 19th-century work ethic.”

Reynolds said that as a college professor he’s seen students show up for class unprepared or not show up at all. While he doesn’t see this as a specific problem in Wallingford, he wants to make sure that doesn’t become the case.

“It’s everybody’s responsibility to make sure students come to school and that homework is done on time,” he said. Reynolds said he’s happy with the education that his family has received from the town, but added that “there’s still work that needs to be done.”

As a member of the school board that hired School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo, Reynolds said he was also looking forward to working with the administrator.

“I’m looking forward to working with Menzo,” Reynolds said. “We’ve been in touch since the election and I’m looking forward to sitting down and talking with him.”

Among the first tasks for Reynolds and the Board of Education will be the 2012-13 school budget. A workshop scheduled for Jan. 9 will be the first time the panel gets a look at Menzo’s proposal.

“I think the last few budgets have gone as smooth as you can get,” Reynolds said. “I know as a board we have to really watch the pennies, from the administrators down to the department heads and the teachers.”

Roxane McKay, the Republican vice chairwoman, said she is looking forward to working with Reynolds again.

“He’s a good guy, and he brings a nice perspective being in the education world,” she said. “He’s very thoughtful and hard-working. He gets all the facts before he makes a decision; he does his homework.”

Kathy Castelli, a Democrat, said she is excited to have Reynolds back.

“He has great perspective,” she said. “He’s so involved with education. He helped me to broaden my own perspective.”

Reynolds said there is a good group on the school board, and that the panel isn’t overly political. He said he is looking forward to rejoining the members he previously worked with.

“I liked the people,” he said. “You couldn’t tell the Republicans from the Democrats. There were no personality conflicts, it was all for the kids.”

Though he could have called it quits after losing his re-election bid, Reynolds said that he still had a desire to serve.

“I grew up in Wallingford, my daughters went through the school system and my grandsons are in it,” he said. “I wanted to give something back.”


Wallingford school board: Welcome Christine Mansfield

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday December 27, 2011

Mansfield: Budget is school board’s No. 1 priority

By Ibrahim Hirsi
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD — When Christine Mansfield ran for public office for the first time in November, she got the second- most votes, winning a seat on the Board of Education.

“It was a dream come true,” said Mansfield, 42, a Republican. “I wanted to run for office. I have the ability to bring people together. I can instantly work with people across the aisles.”

Even though Republican Town Committee Chairman Bob Prentice doesn’t know Mansfield well and hasn’t worked with her in the past, he noted that “everyone likes her.”

“I am very excited to see that she is involved in the local politics,” Prentice added. “She is going to be a great asset to the Board of Ed.”

President and chief executive officer of a technology training company in Wallingford, Discovery Training Services, Mansfield said she will bring her work experience to the school board by building on technological advancements and partnering with businesses and the community to give students some real world experience.

“Focusing on our needs to educate kids in the foundation including reading, literacy, math and critical thinking skills” is important, Mansfield said, adding that those skills can be enhanced by technology.

“I’ve done it for private schools all over the map. And now I get the chance to do it as a board member.”

While the district may be facing another year of low growth in its budget due to a sluggish local economy, Mansfield said a better school system is possible with better money management.

“We have got experience, we’ve got people in place, we’ve got money, we know the needs, and we have to spend as wisely as we can against aging facilities,” Mansfield said.

The budget is the biggest issue before the board this year, Mansfield said, and the first one it needs to tackle.

Federal and state funds used for special education programs just aren’t there anymore, Mansfield said.

“When you look at the funding models that are in place, the superintendent never gets 100 percent of the fund, the district never gets it, and the town never gets it. You just don’t have enough money,” Mansfield said.

Mansfield, a mother of three, said she could see that the board needed her and that’s why she decided to jump on the campaign trail only two days before the deadline to apply for the board member position.

“It wasn’t to be the leader,” she said. “It was to play a role I dreamed of, and I won.”

But the victory was only possible because of extremely hard work and organization, said Mansfield, who shared debate stages with veteran politicians including incumbents Michael Brooder, Joe Marrone, Chet Miller, Roxane McKay from her party, as well as Democrats Jay Cei, Kathy Castelli, Michael J. Votto and Patrick Reynolds.

“It was a lot of work and bringing a lot of people and a lot of good ideas together in a very short period of time,” Mansfield said.

Mansfield is very intelligent and very civic-minded, Prentice said. “She is heavily involved with the kids and church. I hope she will stay involved.”

Mansfield said the campaign was a learning experience.

“It was amazing to meet so many people and eye-opening to hear so many voices in different needs and people so rudely wanting to tell you everything that you can do to change something,” she said.

Mansfield’s 7-year-old daughter and 9- and 11-yearold sons don’t attend public schools, instead attending Holy Trinity School, a Catholic school in town. Mansfield said she noticed that some voters have issues with that.

Her decision, she said, is “by no means to disservice the public school system. It was a decision I made when I was pregnant with the first child. I wanted them to have a piece of faith in this world.”