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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wallingford PZC to revisit revitalization

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday February 22, 2012

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

WALLINGFORD — The Planning and Zoning Commission plans to revive discussion on a downtown revitalization plan that was shelved after it met lukewarm response from the Town Council in December 2010.

The plan calls for a 23.3-acre Incentive Housing Zone that would encompass parts of Hall Avenue, Quinnipiac Street, North Cherry Street, Meadow Street and the intersection of North Colony and Center streets. Allowable densities would be increased to attract developers to build retail and housing similar to West Hartford’s popular Blue Back Square, which opened in 2007.

The zone would allow a maximum of 361 housing units. Drawings of the proposed units include retail and restaurants on the first floor with the upper two or three floors composed of apartments or offices. Twenty percent of the units in the zone must be affordable — classified as those targeted at people who make 80 percent of the area median income — and the housing must meet per-acre density requirements.

Wallingford received a $50,000 planning grant from the state in April 2008.

Towns can qualify for incentives of up to $2,000 for each unit allowed to be built in an Incentive Housing Zone, up to $2,000 for every multifamily unit building permit issued and up to $5,000 for every single-family permit.

A public hearing originally scheduled for Monday was canceled, but Town Planner Linda Bush said the planning commission would be bringing the issue back up in the coming months and seeking input from the mayor and the council. Bush said that the commission doesn’t need an affirmative vote from the council to amend the zoning regulations.

Jim Fitzsimmons, a Democratic PZC member, said that while not required, support from the council was important.

“We don’t make decisions in a vacuum,” he said. “We’re appointed by the council; we’re all on the same team.”

Bush, who is retiring on March 1 after 28 years as town planner, has long been a proponent of the plan.

“Nobody invests money in that neighborhood,” Bush said. “We want to change that. We want to expand the retail. We’d like to see it a Center Street-type district.”

The plan remains largely unchanged from the one that resulted in a 4-4 vote by the council in 2010, though some parking was added. Councilors Vincent Cervoni and John LeTourneau, both Republicans, and Democrats Vincent Testa and John Sullivan supported the plan at the 2010 meeting. Republican Chairman Robert Parisi joined fellow GOP Councilors Rosemary Rascati, Craig Fishbein and former Councilor Jerry Farrell Jr. in opposing the plan.

Newly elected Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the proposal.

“I need to get deeper into it,” he said. “I want to talk to some of the downtown people. It’s good to hear what the people have to say.” The proposed development would take place in the area around the new train station on the Springfield, Mass.-New Haven commuter line. The new regulations are purposed to “promote the development of a transit-oriented, pedestrian friendly downtown community within walking distance to the (train station),” according to the proposed regulations. The Department of Transportation has proposed building a new station near Judd Square or Parker Street. Other upgrades include streetscape improvements, including ornamental streetlights, brick pathways and trees.

But Fishbein said he still has problems with the idea behind the plan.

“It’s going to turn the town of Wallingford into the city of Wallingford,” Fishbein said.

He said that he had problems with the height of the buildings and the idea of putting parking garages downtown. Fishbein said he was also concerned that, if there were improvements planned that property owners wouldn’t buy into, the costs could fall to the town.

LeTourneau, who owns Wallingford Lamp and Shade on Center Street, said he supported the idea the first time around and still stands by it.

“I have no idea why it was pulled (from the PZC agenda),” he said. “I don’t know why it’s before the council; it’s a Planning and Zoning issue.”

Fitzsimmons noted that the new zoning regulations are an overlay, and don’t replace what’s currently there.

“Nobody is required to make any changes,” he said. “But if a developer wants to, the option is there. It’s another zoning opportunity.”

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he supports the idea of the zone, though he, too, had earlier concerns.

“It encourages investment in downtown,” Dickinson said. “We’re changing our regulations to encourage private investment. Everyone benefits from that.”

Fitzsimmons said he backs the plan and hopes it would help the local economy recover. The last two planning commission meetings saw no new development come to town.

“Times are tough, but this is a wonderful opportunity for the town,” he said. “Let’s put it on the books for when the economy does turn.”

LeTourneau said he’d like to see some action taken.

“We can do nothing, and we will have nothing,” he said.

Information from The Connecticut Mirror is included in this report.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bidding edge to local businesses eyed through code change

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday February 21, 2012

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

WALLINGFORD — Changes have been proposed to the town’s purchasing code to favor local businesses, but one councilor wants to see more done.

New language in the code raises the bid threshold from $4,000 to $7,500 and requires the purchasing department to attempt to obtain quotes for purchases below the threshold from local vendors.

Open-market purchases don’t require advertisement and aren’t handled in the same way as the competitive bidding process. These purchases “shall, whenever possible, be based on at least three competitive quotes and shall be awarded to the lowest responsive and responsible quoter,” reads the proposed code change.

According to the new language, “whenever possible, reasonable efforts shall be made to obtain such quotes from local vendors.”

Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, a Republican, said that he had requested the changes during a meeting of the Ordinance Committee to help drive town work to local businesses. “The $4,000 bar is too low,” Fishbein said. “Right now, a $5,000 expenditure has to go out to public bid. It could be awarded to another town.”

Fishbein said that the new language “almost mandates they have to attempt to make the purchase from local businesses.”

“It’s steering the business to Wallingford,” he said.

But Fishbein said he wants to see more done to help local businesses, and has proposed further language that will award a contract to a local company that comes within 5 percent of the lowest bidder. That proposal is still before the ordinance committee.

Fishbein said that surrounding municipalities — including Meriden, North Haven and Durham — have local bidding preferences, and the result is that Wallingford companies are losing out on contracts there.

“I’m generally against government picking winners and losers, but it’s only fair we help those companies,” Fishbein said.

Republican Councilor John LeTourneau disagreed, and said that preferring local businesses could dissuade companies in other towns from bidding at all.

“I don’t believe it can work,” he said. “Why would you bid if you already have a strike against you?”

LeTourneau said that it isn’t fair that even if a company were to be the low bidder, because they’re out of town, “they don’t have a chance.”

“If I was out of town, I wouldn’t bid,” he said.

John Sullivan, a Democratic councilor, said he wasn’t in favor of pushing the proposal as far as Fishbein wanted.

“I see both sides, but it needs to be fair,” he said. “Local bidders need to put the best price on any bid. It should be one bid, one time and fair to everybody.”

A public hearing on the proposed changes, not including the 5 percent preference, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 28, during the council’s next meeting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rule likely to prevent repeat of debris deal

As published in the Record Journal Friday February 17, 2012

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

WALLINGFORD - Town employees are allowed to bid on contracts with the town, according to the Town Charter, but a recent event highlights the complications that can occur.

Randy Mangino, a public works employee, had a contract with the town’s Water Department that allowed for debris and fill to be discarded at his Shady Drive disposal site. In January, due to a misreading of the contract, wood cut from the town’s parks by public works employees was improperly disposed of at his site, rather than at a public works yard.

“There was an investigation, but it was determined there was no intentional wrongdoing; the wood was restored,” Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said.

But Dickinson admitted that when contracts overlap with an employee’s work, mistakes can be made.

“We’re planning to make it clear that it’s not a good situation to have a department contract with its employees,” he said.

The charter specifies “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, including prior public offer and subsequent public disclosure of all proposals considered.”

Dickinson said that he had been discussing a directive or a mechanism to prevent the same situation from happening again. In his 28 years as mayor, Dickinson said, he’s never seen a similar situation. But when a town employee has a contract with the town, “it’s got to be arm’s length” from his town duties, Dickinson said.

“When any employee is doing business other than as an employee with that department ... it gets too confusing,” he said. “We want to put an end to that practice.” Mangino’s company, Mangino Excavation LLC, was the low bidder for the three-year disposal deal. Under the contract, he was paid $4 in 2009, $5 in 2010 and $6 in 2011 for each cubic yard of debris he picked up and hauled to his site. Four other firms, from Wallingford, Durham, Milford and Orange, submitted bids that were higher.

Mangino could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Corporation Counsel Janis Small said the town was reviewing the provisions in the charter that allow public employees to bid on town contracts and seeing if there’s a way to further define them. There are ways other than a charter revision to address the issues, she said.

“There’s safety in putting something out to bid; everyone has a fair shake,” she said. “But we’re looking at the practicalities of that.”

Small said the charter provision was good, but “it doesn’t take it to the next level.”

“There are still some serious questions,” she said.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Participation in school lunch programs rises

As published in the Record Journal Friday February 17, 2012

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

WALLINGFORD — The number of students taking advantage of federal free and reduced lunch programs has risen 12 percent over figures from last year.

School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said that 982 students are enrolled in either program for the current school year, up from 875 a year ago. The district enrolls about 6,400 students.

The increase can be attributed to a number of factors, including the tough economic times and an effort to raise awareness of the programs. Food Service Director Sharlene Wong said previously that the district was ramping up its efforts to reach out to eligible families to encourage them to sign up. She could not be reached for comment Thursday.

“People are hurting,” said Board of Education Chairwoman Roxane McKay. “But I think Sharlene and all of our building administrators do a good job getting the word out to families.”

McKay, a Republican, said it was also important to note that families can apply for free and reduced lunch at any point during the school year.

“If there’s a layoff, or their financial situation deteriorates, that option is always there,” she said.

Because the federal rate of reimbursement is greater than what Wallingford charges for lunches, free and reduced lunch programs help put money in the cafeteria’s coffers. The cafeteria operates its own, self-sustaining budget, but has run a deficit each of the last two fiscal years.

“We don’t want to see more families on the program, but financially, it’s better for our budget,” McKay said.

Republican school board member Chet Miller said the program is a win-win.

“If they meet the criteria, we want them on it,” he said. “It helps us and helps them.” Miller said free and reduced numbers have risen sharply over the last two years.

“It’s amazing how much it’s grown,” he said.

In June 2009, 607 students were on free and reduced lunch, according to Record-Journal archives.

Menzo said that Wong puts information about free and reduced lunch on newsletters sent home each month.

“We’re making certain that we reach as many parents as possible,” he said.

School lunch prices rose by 15 cents in the current school year to help keep pace with the reimbursement the district gets for the federal lunch programs. Wallingford’s prices of $2 for elementary schools, $2.15 for middle schools and $2.25 for high schools are lower than schools of comparable size. The school district receives $2.77 for each free meal it serves and $2.37 for each reduced- price lunch, which costs students 40 cents.

The increases followed the passage by Congress in late 2010 of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. The act contains a provision that schools participating in the federal free and reduced price lunch program have to charge a price for lunch that is comparable to the federal rate for free lunch. Wong said last year that the district was moving toward making the numbers more equal, but didn’t want to raise lunch prices drastically in one year. Any parent who wants to see if they are eligible for free or reduced lunch can call the school’s food services at (203) 949-5927.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Funds OK’d for traffic signal repairs in Wallingford

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday February 15, 2012

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

WALLINGFORDThe Town Council has approved $15,000 in extra funds to fix traffic signals.

Town Engineer John Thompson said the line item for traffic signal repairs was cut from $17,000 to $12,000 in this year’s budget. So far, $5,000 has been spent, but needed repairs are expected to exceed the balance.

“Due to a major equipment failure at the John Street and South Cherry Street intersection (our oldest traffic signal in town); while we are maintaining operations with borrowed equipment, our contract vendor has submitted an estimate of almost $10,000 to replace the damaged equipment.” Thompson wrote in a letter to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.

Thompson said that with five months left in the fiscal year, the Engineering Department wanted to keep a reserve beyond the scheduled repairs “in the event that we need to purchase traffic signal bulbs or other equipment to keep the signals in operation.”

During a brief appearance before the council Tuesday, Thompson said Republican Councilor Craig Fishbein had proposed the $5,000 cut, which the council ultimately passed.

“He asked me at that time what would be the result of that and I told him that if there was a need, I would be back before the council during the year,” Thompson said. “That need has identified itself in the way of some unanticipated expenses.”

Fishbein did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, and Thompson said he had hoped Fishbein would be there so he could make his point.

“You wanted to say, ‘I told you so,’ ” Council Chairman Robert Parisi said.

In other business in Tuesday’s short meeting, the council scheduled a public hearing for its next meeting, at 7 p.m. Feb. 28, to discuss amendments to the town’s purchasing guidelines. New language shows a preference for local companies.

The council also approved an appropriation of $37,500 for the Water Division, which requested money for consulting services for concrete repairs at the water treatment plant.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Darter looks to oust Fritz

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday February 14, 2012

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

CHESHIRE / WALLINGFORD — A local Republican businessman has announced his interest in his party’s nomination for the state House seat now held by Democrat Mary Fritz, of Wallingford. The 90th House District consists of portions of Cheshire and Wallingford.

Guy Darter, 57, co-owner of Darter Specialties on Cornwall Avenue, says he wants to work to make Connecticut more business-friendly.

“As a business person, I can’t take what they’re doing,” Darter said. “It’s not a good state to do business. I want to bring a business sense to government.”

Fritz, 73, said she is “happy to have someone interested in the seat.” However, she said she has done a lot to help small businesses during her years in the legislature.

“I’ve run two small businesses, so I know all about that,” she said. “In 28 years, I’ve helped out a lot of business people, but I’ve never heard from Mr. Darter,” she said.

Darter will be making his first run for elected office, but said he has always been interested in politics and has been attending Republican Town Committee and Town Hall meetings for several years, in addition to visiting the state Capitol for the past decade. With his kids out of college and a growing dissatisfaction with state government, Darter said now is as good a time as any to run.

After growing up in Norwalk, Darter took undergraduate and MBA classes at the University of New Haven. He started Coupon Madness, a direct mail advertising business, which he sold in 1990 to start Darter Press Inc., which began in his garage with one printing press.

The company started as a commercial printer before shifting its focus to screen printing, embroidery and signs and banners. Darter co-owns the business with his wife, Alice, and has lived in Cheshire for 32 years.

Among his chief goals is holding the state budget to generally accepted accounting principles. Darter says the rules will make it so state government can’t rely on “phony revenue” to balance the budget.

“No longer can they play with the numbers,” he said.

The state budget has gotten out of control, Darter said, and taxes and mandates make it hard for his businesses to compete with similar shops in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.

“The state is fundamentally broken,” he said.

As a business owner, Darter said he’s against the proposal by House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, to raise the minimum wage.

“Not in this economy,” he said. “The high school kids won’t have jobs, you’re hurting that population.”

Darter also wants to eliminate the state income tax on Social Security benefits for seniors, and cap the gross receipts tax on gasoline.

Another statewide issue Darter is campaigning on is the death penalty, saying he supports it and wants to strengthen the law to make it easier to carry out.

“It’s impossible to carry out,” he said. “You should get one appeal, and you’re done. ... There’ve been no wrongful convictions on Connecticut’s death row. If there was a flaw, it would come up.”

Darter said Fritz is “very nice,” but it is “time for her to retire.”

“Her politics are old,” he said.

Darter also proposes term limits of 10 years for state legislators.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wallingford fuel crisis program gets more money

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday February 15, 2012

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

WALLINGFORD — To address a growing demand, the town has set aside an additional $5,000 for its fuel crisis program, which distributes money to low-income residents who need help paying heating bills.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. requested the money in a letter to the Town Council on Feb. 1 and the funds were approved at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

“Due to the reduction in state energy assistance, the current unemployment situation within our community and the rising costs of fuel prices, we have experienced a large number of needy individuals utilizing the Fuel Crisis program,” Dickinson wrote.

The need locally has been exacerbated by cuts in federal and state fuel aid. Last year, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, was funded at $4.701 billion, with more than $100 million going to Connecticut. This year, federal officials proposed $2.570 billion for the program, a cut of nearly 50 percent. The program was eventually funded at $3.472 billion. Of these funds, Connecticut received $79.531 million.

U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, a New Haven Democrat whose 3rd District includes Wallingford, said when the funds were announced in December that she was disappointed in the cuts.

“In this difficult economy, with sky-high energy prices and cold winters, families throughout the country rely on the LIHEAP program,” De-Lauro said at the time in a statement. “I believe that we have a moral obligation to care for our most vulnerable citizens, and that means fully funding the LIHEAP program. ... We cannot leave American families out in the cold.”

Wallingford isn’t alone in an increased demand for fuel assistance. Patricia Wrice, executive director of Operation Fuel, which helps low-income residents with their heating bills, said demand is as high as it was last year, but there’s less money to go around.

“We’ve had federal benefits reduced by $30 million,” she said.

Wrice said residents have been fortunate that this winter has been warmer than last, but there hasn’t been a drop-off in fuel aid demand.

“If we had a winter like last year, it would be a disaster,” she said. “The economy hasn’t bounced back. It could have been a lot worse. The weather kept people safe.”

The Wallingford Fuel Crisis Program account was funded in the amount of $15,589 from town money and private donations for the current fiscal year. As as of Feb. 1, $14,907 had been distributed, leaving little money to spare. “We are very concerned about meeting the fuel needs of a number of our residents and believe that this appropriation will allow us to provide assistance through the remainder of the fiscal year,” Dickinson wrote.

Menzo says 3% needed just to keep service level

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday February 14, 2012

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

WALLINGFORD — With a large drop-off in federal funding from a year ago, and the rising costs of insurance and supplies, School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo says the education budget needs to increase by 3.05 percent just to keep services at the current level.

The Board of Education is preparing to present its budget to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and is asking for a 3.91 increase overall, or $3,393,634, in additional funding. The money consists of a “sustained services” budget — the cost to operate the schools at their current level — and select items from the school board’s strategic plan. But Menzo says the figure is deceiving, because a federal jobs grant worth $1,295,275 won’t be available this year, creating an immediate shortfall.

Menzo said the Board of Education recommended splitting the use of the grant over two years. To stave off an increase in taxes, Dickinson required the district to spend all the money in 2011-12.

“Now the burden is on this year,” Menzo said. Financially, the district is ahead of where Menzo said it would be a year ago, when he argued to split the grant over two budgets and projected a deficit of more than $2 million. Other savings have been found, but still, if the school budget gets no increase, there will be an automatic gap of $1.3 million that must be filled. “If appropriate funding is not provided, there will be significant services that will have to be reduced or eliminated,” Menzo said.

Democratic Board of Education member Michael Votto said the board has scrutinized the budget and that there are no unnecessary costs. A portion of the money has gone to pay for unfunded state mandates, Votto said.

Votto said he realizes that with a small increase in the grand list, there isn’t new money available, and the increase in the education budget could require a tax increase.

“If we have to raise taxes to help education, I think that’s the best place to put it,” he said. “Education is a priority to prepare our kids for the world.”

Votto said that with other costs going up, “I don’t know how people expect taxes won’t go up.”

Board of Education Chairwoman Roxane McKay said a lot of hard work went into this year’s budget, and she had confidence in the proposal the board would bring to the mayor. McKay said that some of the items included for maintenance — such as repairing cracked sidewalks and removing asbestos — are essential for safety concerns.

With the jobs grant taken out of the equation, the school board is asking for $2,100,408, or about a 2.42 percent increase in new funds from the town.

Menzo said that some of the increase covers additions to the budget — such as adding lacrosse as a sport at the high schools and introducing world language, math and career and technical education coordinators for all the district’s schools — but a large portion is for employee benefits and non-certified salaries. Teachers and administrators took a pay freeze in the first year of a three-year contract negotiated last fall.

As for the strategic plan, Menzo said that the board and school administrators realize they won’t be able to move forward with every aspect of it. Still, money is being put toward technology and maintenance items that are part of the plan, though it is coming from the district’s unencumbered fund balance, or monies left over from last year’s budget.

“It might take longer to get there, but we are moving forward,” Menzo said. McKay said she felt the board had been good stewards of town money, and that no increase or a smaller increase could mean higher costs down the road. As a taxpayer, she said she weighs the cost to townspeople versus the education benefit to the schoolchildren. “It’s a tough balancing act,” she said.

The school board will meet Feb. 27 to adopt a budget and present it to the mayor on March 1.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Councilor suggests downtown site for Wallingford school offices

As published in the Record Journal, Saturday February 11, 2012

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

WALLINGFORD — The Board of Education has looked in the past to move its administrative offices from Sheehan High School, and one town councilor thinks he’s found a place that will suit their needs as well as offer more downtown parking. Nick Economopoulos, a Democrat, said the town should investigate buying the property at 50 S. Main St., an building across the street from Town Hall, next to the post office.

According to Town Assessor Shelby Jackson, the property is appraised at $1 million and assessed at $728,000. Economopoulos said the property is listed for sale for $1.2 million. Jackson said the building, which was constructed in 1973, has 16,000 square feet and sits on a half-acre.

“It’s mostly medical offices,” Jackson said.

Economopoulos, a former school board member, said Sheehan High School was looking to begin a nursing program that would require a hospital- type setting. Moving the administrative offices would free space for that, he said.

Another advantage of the South Main Street property, in addition to office space, is the parking, Economopoulos said. The parking would be available for municipal use when the offices were closed.

“There’s 26 marked spaces in each lot, on the South Main side and the Center Street side,” Economopoulos said. “We’re killing two birds with one stone, increasing parking on the nights and weekends when the town is busiest, and finding space for the Board of Education.”

He added that town departments looking to expand could possibly use the space.

School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said the school district had explored moving the Board of Education offices “on a very basic level,” but the current fiscal situation doesn’t make it appear likely.

“It’s a dream of ours ... there’s a lot of possibilities if we were to leave Sheehan,” Menzo said. “We could expand some programming and look at some other opportunities. But, he added, “right now the finances wouldn’t allow us to make any changes.”

“We have to focus our attention at this point on getting budget passed by the mayor before we can investigate anything beyond that,” he said.

Chet Miller, a Republican Board of Education member, said the school district was interested in one point in property at 60 N. Main St., the old library building owned by Fred Ulbrich. “They looked at it, but I don’t know if there was any real sense of it being the right building,” Miller said. “But I know we’ve looked at properties before.”

Miller said he hoped that before the town purchased any properties officials would “look for alternatives within the existing school system.”

“We have a diminishing student population. It keeps dropping,” he said. “Some space has got to be freed up.”

Miller said he didn’t know specifically what the new office space would be used for.

Economopoulos said that the town had planned to spend $500,000 to improve the parking lot behind the businesses on Simpson Court, and that coming up with another half-million dollars shouldn’t be too difficult. He believes the town could buy the property for about $1 million.

But Craig Fishbein, a Republican councilor, disagreed, and said the town shouldn’t be in the business of buying properties. He said he wouldn’t support any purchase “until there’s an identified need for use by the town that’s viable.”

“The track record is clear, the town should not be in the general real estate business,” Fishbein said.

He pointed to the Wooding-Caplan property, located off Center Street, which the council voted to purchase in 1991 for $1.5 million, but has remained largely vacant since. A referendum in2006 overturned the Town Council’s decision to sell the property to a local developer.

Fishbein also mentioned the American Legion building, which was sold recently after a long legal battle over its protected status as a historic building, and a town-owned building at 390 Center St., next to Wooding- Caplan, that was ultimately demolished.

Economopoulos said he wouldn’t support going forward with the purchase without knowing the school district was ready to move.

As far as parking concerns, Fishbein said that the council was exploring the creation of a temporary parking lot on the Wooding-Caplan property.

Councilors will receive a report in March from the Engineering Department with drawings and cost estimates.

Dave Zajac / Record-Journal

Wallingford Councilor Nick Economopoulos has suggested the town look at buying the office building at 50 S. Main St. as a site for education offices and more downtown parking.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Councilors seek help with fireworks fundraising

NOTE: The Wallingford Fireworks Fund will meet at Gaetano's Tavern on Main (40 N Main St  Wallingford) on Wednesday February 8th at 7:30PM in the dinning area.

The meeting will be to recruit volunteers to work as part of the fundraising committee for the 2012 fundraising season which will kick off on March 1st.

For more information contact Jason Zandri at 860 614 6069 or via You can also contact Craig Fishbein at his law offices - (203) 265-2895

As published in the Record Journal on Tuesday January 31, 2012

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

WALLINGFORD — If Jason Zandri has learned one thing in his past two efforts to raise money for the town’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration, it’s that you can never start too early.

Zandri, a Democratic town councilor, has headed the effort to pay for the fireworks since the town dropped the festivities from its budget in 2010. He’s already started a blog to promote this year’s fundraising efforts, and will be holding a meeting soon, looking for people to join a fundraising board to oversee the operations.

“We’re looking this year to get a formal fundraising committee established,”Zandri said. For the past two years, Zandri, his father, Geno, and Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein have collected most of the donations. But Jason Zandri said it can’t continue with just the three of them.

“It can’t just be the Jason, Craig and Geno show,” he said. “We lucked out doing it twice like that.”

The first year the money was raised, Jason Zandri worked from his Wallingford home and his flexible schedule allowed him time for fundraising outside Stop & Shop and Dunkin’ Donuts. But last year, Zandri took a job in New York City and had to restrict his efforts to the weekends.

“For 16 weeks that’s all I did on the weekends,” Jason Zandri said.

With his new responsibilities as a councilor, putting in the same effort this year will be “impossible.”

“I’m just too involved,” Jason Zandri said. “I have to tend to my council duties, and the majority of the fundraising comes during budget season.”

Fishbein agreed, noting that he too became busy in 2011 and didn’t help out as much as he did the year before. “We need all the help we can get,” Fishbein said.

Jason Zandri said he hopes more of the people who come out to the show will help pay the costs associated with it. Many of the donations in the past two years have come from large businesses and not individuals.

Fishbein said he was disappointed that two fundraisers scheduled last year — a matinee movie and a concert at Zandri’s Stillwood Inn — drew small numbers of people.

“It was very discouraging,” Fishbein said.

Fundraising efforts at the show last year also didn’t garner as much money as was expected, Fishbein said.

Jason Zandri will once again ask the mayor if the town can pay a portion of the costs, such as the police and public works overtime, but he said he wasn’t optimistic the town would put money toward the project. The fund has about$1,000 left over from last year to put toward the 2012 show.

Last year the $24,150 for the show was raised with little time to spare. Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said the check was delivered to the town at 2:30 p.m. on May 27, 2011, only hours before his 5 p.m. deadline.

A $2,500 donation from New Life Church helped the charity reach its goal in 2011. Similarly, a $5,000 gift from Choate Rosemary Hall in 2010 pushed the fund past its $30,000 goal.

For more information on fireworks fundraising, visit

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lacrosse backers focus on one goal

High school team proposal in hands of school board, Mayor Dickinson

As published in the Record Journal, Saturday January 28, 2012

By Stephanie O’Connell
Record-Journal staff

WALLINGFORD — The lacrosse community is thrilled that this year’s school budget includes money to add junior varsity lacrosse teams at both Sheehan and Lyman Hall high schools.

School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo’s proposed budget would set aside $81,058 in the first year for two teams and $66,932 in the second year. The budget is still being discussed by the Board of Education and will be passed along to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. for final approval.

“Right now it’s not a done deal, the mayor still has the final say but being included in the initial budget is a big step for us,” said Tim Taylor, the Wallingford Youth Boys Lacrosse coordinator. “Right now we have about 200 kids between boys and girls that are playing in the youth leagues. It is the right time to be adding the teams.”

At a public budget forum in November, Menzo said that he was approached about adding the sport in his first year as superintendent, but was concerned because there wasn’t a club program for girls on both sides of town. There was a high school-age girls club only on the Sheehan side. This past spring was the first year that the youth league fielded teams for both sexes on both sides of town. The town’s youth program began about six years ago with 20 boys and 20 girls. The program has grown to 55 boys and more than 60 girls in grades 9 through 12.

Taylor has three children who have been playing lacrosse for years. They play in the youth program that travels to play teams in Madison, North Haven, Cheshire, Guilford and Clinton.

Sheehan and Lyman Hall are the last two schools in the Southern Connecticut Conference without lacrosse teams. The school plays in the Housatonic division with Amity, Shelton and Cheshire.

“In our conference we are the only schools who do not provide lacrosse so I think that it’s time we consider it and add it to the budget and to the schools,” said Roxane McKay, chairwoman of the Board of Education. “We are talking about a lot of kids who are interested and when you look at those numbers you can tell it is an up-and-coming sport.”

McKay has been in contact with Taylor, Wallingford Lacrosse President Michelle Milslagle, coaches and players for over a year. They have had open conversations about the pros and cons of adding the sport.

“I have been very upfront with the lacrosse folks as they have with me,” said McKay. “They know that even though we put it in the budget today it doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. We have a very long way to go.”

McKay has been impressed with the support shown by Wallingford Lacrosse parents, coaches and players at meetings. She said that she understood their level of dedication after a group of teenage players showed up at an 8 a.m. meeting on a snowy Saturday morning.

“The board has been on our side since we first brought this up years ago, so we find it necessary to show up at meetings when it is going to be discussed to show our dedication,” Milslagle said.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

McGuire’s letter to Holy Trinity

As published in the Record Journal on Saturday January 28, 2012

Editor’s note: This is the text of a letter sent by Ferguson & McGuire to Holy Trinity School:

January 4, 2012 We regret to advise you that as of this date, we will no longer be able to allow your parishioners, faculty and parents to use our parking lot located behind TD Bank at 6-28 North Main Street.

Because of the town referendum, this property is considered private and no longer a municipal parking lot. Accordingly, our insurance company does not want us to assume liability for any accidents that may occur on the parking lot property. When the lot was considered public, the Town of Wallingford assumed all responsibility for accidents and agreed to hold Ferguson & McGuire harmless for accidents that happened on it. This is not the case at this time.

When the lot was considered municipal, it worked well for all of us, and we were in favor of it remaining that way and being expanded by the town. Unfortunately, that cannot happen at this time. Also, the Town was supposed to maintain the lot, and as you know, other than plowing it, they have not done so.

We hope that you will advise the Mayor and Town Council about your need for parking in the Simpson Court area and request that they reinstate our lot as a municipal facility.

Yours very truly, Ferguson & McGuire, Inc.

Jack McGuire, Chairman John McGuire, President Christopher McGuire, Vice-President

No parking, McGuire tells Holy Trinity

As published in the Record Journal on Saturday January 28, 2012

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

WALLINGFORD — In a letter to Holy Trinity School officials earlier this month, Jack McGuire wrote that he would no longer let the church use the portion of his parking lot behind the businesses on Simpson Court. “We regret to advise you that as of this date, we will no longer be able to allow your parishioners, faculty and parents to use our parking lot located behind TD Bank at 6-28 North Main Street,” McGuire wrote in the Jan. 4 letter.

McGuire, who is in Florida, did not respond to a request for comment.

A November 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.

When the new lease agreement with owners of the four properties abutting the lot was reversed in the town-wide vote, 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.

McGuire, CEO of local insurance company Ferguson & McGuire, owns two of the four properties on Simpson Court 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.

“Because of the town’s referendum, this property is considered private and no longer a municipal parking lot,” McGuire wrote. “Accordingly, our insurance company does not want us to assume liability for any accidents that may occur on the parking lot property.”

Christine Mansfield, chairwoman of the Holy Trinity School board, said the loss of parking has had an impact on the school.

“I think the effect has been tragic and disappointing,” said Mansfield, also a member of the Board of Education. “A winter scenario can only exasperate the problem. Until a solution is in place, we’re putting the kids at risk.”

An article in the Record-Journal last week said that McGuire had closed his lot to municipal parking. But John Le-Tourneau, a Republican town councilor who owns Wallingford Lamp & Shade on Center Street, has said he’s still seen people parked there when the businesses are closed. “I expect people to continue to park there because they have for years,” LeTourneau said. “It’s posted, but the lot is not shut down.”

McGuire wrote that he was in favor of the new lease agreement, and wanted to see the parking lot improvements go through.

“When the lot was considered municipal, it worked well for all of us, and we were in favor of it remaining that way and being expanded by the town,” McGuire wrote. “Unfortunately, that cannot happen at this time. Also, the town was supposed to maintain the lot, and as you know, other than plowing it, they have not done so.” McGuire said school officials should “advise the mayor and Town Council about your need for parking in the Simpson Court area and request that they reinstate our lot as a municipal facility.” Mansfield said that the church has been adjusting by having members park farther down in the public portion of the lot, or by trying to find parking on the street. But on-street parking is limited to two hours, she said.

A line has been drawn in the lot by the town and signs have been moved to demarcate the lot, but some people Friday were continuing to park in McGuire’s portion of the lot — behind TD Bank and the Body and Soul Day Spa. There is no physical barrier to keep parkers from using McGuire’s lot.

McGuire has said before he would consider restrictions on his portion of the parking area. “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.”

The remainder of the municipal parking lot is behind Gaetano’s Tavern, the Masonic Temple building and the old library building at 60 N. Main St. Corporation Counsel Janis Small said no other property owners have filed the required one-year notice to quit the year-to-year agreement.