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Friday, September 28, 2012

Complaint accuses councilors of ties to Holy Trinity School

As published in the Record Journal Friday September 28, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
lsalerno@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2235
Twitter:@LaurieSalernoRJ 

WALLINGFORD — The resident leading the opposition to the town’s plans to repair the Simpson Court parking lot has filed an ethics complaint against two town councilors, saying they should not have discussed issues related to a retaining wall on Holy Trinity School property because of their affiliations with the school.

The retaining wall would be fixed as part of the town’s plan to repair and upgrade the Simpson Court parking lot, if it receives a grant the council approved applying for Tuesday night.

On Sept. 17, Robert Gross filed an ethics complaint with the town’s Board of Ethics and town attorney against Republican Town Councilors Tom Laffin and John LeTourneau. Both dispute Gross’ claims. A Board of Ethics meeting on the issue will be held on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Room 315 at Town Hall.

Gross could not be reached Thursday. LeTourneau said he’d prefer to discuss the matter in detail after the ethics panel meeting, but Laffin spoke freely, saying he felt the complaint was an ill-conceived and poorly researched political play by Gross, a Democrat.

The complaint says Laffin and LeTourneau should not have participated in conversations at two Town Council meetings, one on June 26 and another on Sept. 11, because of their connections to Holy Trinity School.

LeTourneau’s grandchildren attend the school. Though the complaint says that Laffin’s children also do, his 6-year-old son, Jack, only attends first grade Catholic education classes at Holy Trinity School, Laffin said. The classes are provided through Holy Trinity Church, not the school, and take up about an hour a week.

Laffin said he was frustrated that Gross appeared to have made a serious allegation against him without researching it.

“You’re calling into question my ability to serve? You did it based on a misunderstanding? You didn’t confirm (that my son goes to the school)?” Laffin said, adding that that Gross could have called the school or asked around to confirm his son’s involvement. “How am I going to take anything he says in the future seriously?”

The complaint cites the town’s Code of Ethics regarding conflict of interest and disclosure, which says: “No officer or employee shall have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, which is in conflict with the proper discharge of his or her official duties or employment. Interest shall be as defined by the Code of Ethics or other ordinances, as may be applicable to an individual case.” The code also requires that officers or employees who believe they have an interest to tell, in writing, “their affiliation to the chairman or agency, commission or board of which he or she is a member.”

In a letter to the Rev. Dean Warburton, chairman of the Board of Ethics, Laffin disputed the charge.“I will in no way, personally and/or exclusively benefit from any decision made by the town on the Holy Trinity wall. I will not receive monetary compensation or elevated status of any sort, should the town be involved in the wall’s repair,” said Laffin’s letter.

“Had I believed even in the slightest that my relationships … have any impact on my decision any more than my decision is impacted by the fact that I am a patron of all of the downtown restaurants and shops, I would have sought the opinion of the Board of Ethics in advance of any discussion or vote involving the wall.

At the June 26 meeting, councilors voted to have the town attorney’s office look into ownership of the wall to see if the town had any liability for it, after building the parking lot above in 1961. Corporation Counsel Janis Small said at the Sept. 11 meeting, that after researching the issue, she had determined the town is not responsible for the wall. The councilors discussed the Simpson Court project, which would include repairs to the wall, at the Sept. 11 meeting for the first time.

LeTourneau and Laffin, along with other councilors, disclosed their relationships with the church and school at the June 26 meeting, with the exception of Laffin’s son’s Catholic education class, because he was not yet enrolled. Laffin said he is a parishioner and had attended Holy Trinity School, LeTourneau said that he is not a parishioner, but his grandchildren attend the school and his daughter is going to be taking a seat on Holy Trinity’s school board.

Republican Councilors Robert Parisi, Rosemary Rascati and Craig Fishbein each declared that they are members of Holy Trinity Church, and others Thursday said that they’ve supported church fundraisers or had connections in the past, including Councilor Nick Economopoulos, a Democrat, whose wife worked as a teacher at the school more than 20 years ago.

Councilors defended their colleagues, many saying that the two have no conflict because they have no direct financial ties to the school, since it’s LeTourneau’s grandchildren, and Laffin’s child’s program is run through the church, not the school. Sister Kathleen Kelly, the school’s principal, confirmed that the Catholic education classes are run by the church, and just the school facility is used.

“He’s not the legal guardian; he did not direct them to go to the school,” said Councilor Vincent Cervoni, a Republican, of LeTourneau and his grandchildren. “I think the allegations are a real stretch, and that there’s an ulterior motive to me.”

Economopoulos, an opponent of the Simpson Court upgrade plan, says he doesn’t have an opinion on the ethics complaint, but he called the complaint more evidence that the parking lot project will pull the town apart.

Wallingford Trash plant tour and Q&A session with staff, DEEP set for Oct. 4

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday September 26, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
lsalerno@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2235
Twitter:@LaurieSalernoRJ

WALLINGFORDEver wonder what happens to your trash when it leaves the curb? On Thursday, Oct. 4, residents will be able to tour Covanta’s Wallingford trash-to-energy facility and afterward ask questions of representatives from the company and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The idea for the event was sparked by a petition filed by resident Robert Gross to contest the DEEP’s approval of Covanta’s application to renew its solid waste permit. Gross cited resident concerns about smells and emissions violations that have since been addressed. The tour will be held at 4 p.m. at Covanta, 530 S. Cherry St., and the informational session will be held at6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

The Record-Journal was given a preview tour on Tuesday by the plant’s local and regional operators, who answered questions and gave an overview of operations at the Wallingford plant.

The Cherry Street facility began operating in 1989 under the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. New Jersey based Covanta bought it in 2010. Today the facility, equipped with three furnaces, burns 420 tons of trash each day from Wallingford, Meriden, Cheshire, North Haven and Hamden. The process generates 11 megawatts of energy, which is sold to the Connecticut Light & Power Co. That’s roughly enough to power 9,000 houses, according to Covanta literature.

Officials Tuesday stressed the environmental benefits of a trash-to-energy plant over depositing trash in landfills, and presented their continued efforts to support recycling.

“We’ve been doing green energy before people thought it was sexy,” said Cheryl Thibeault, business manager at the Wallingford site.

The site, staff say, produces energy equivalent to 100 tons of coal or 420 barrels of oil each day, reducing the need for either substance. Ninety percent of the trash it takes in becomes energy. The other 10 percent is ash, which is deposited in landfills. James Regan, communications manager for Covanta, said the company’s operations in some other countries use the ash in paving and other projects, and he’s hoping the U.S. will soon allow the same practices.

Waste company trucks roll in six days a week, stopping at a scale and then dropping off their loads of garbage in a warehouse-like room called the “tipping floor.” On Tuesday, the room, visible from Covanta’s offices through a pane of glass, was filled with about 2,500 tons of all manner of trash.

There was no scent of trash behind the layer of glass, and that’s because the plant both sprays a deodorizing formula and sucks air from the room into its processes so that it is burned with the trash.

Gross has said some residents have said they can smell trash emanating from the facility. Though the plant takes measures, Thibeault acknowledges that on a hot summer day, someone might smell a truck pulling in with contents that have been marinating.

Though it’s only open for deliveries six days a week, the plant processes waste 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. From the tipping floor, the trash is pushed into one of three graded furnaces, with higher temperatures the farther down each one sits; the temperature hits as high as 2,000 degrees.

The ash is collected below, and the hot air generated heats a boiler that sends steam that powers a generator that generates electricity that is transmitted to CL&P through an on-site transformer.

Air and particulates that are byproducts of the process are routed through other mechanisms that filter out unwanted substances before the final emissions are released as air and steam from a stack on the site.

A broken pipe in furnace 2 that was supposed to shoot a substance that leaches dioxins from the escaping emissions is what caused the plant’s 2010 DEEP violations. The company reported the problem after a compliance test showed the issue, and Covanta was fined $400,000.

The furnace was taken immediately offline and remedied, and emissions were not high enough to have had any effect on the health of nearby residents, Regan said.

“What happened in 2010 was unacceptable to us as a company,” Regan said. He said the company worked hard to ensure that the plant is now well under the amount allowed. It is also a site for new technology that is further decreasing dioxin emissions.

Business at the plant will increase in the next year, with the company adding trash from Newington, Madison, Guilford and Southbury.

Covanta staff say they’re looking forward to answering questions and concerns next week.

“‘Not in my backyard’ is real,” Regan said, and he and other staff hope they can help change negative perceptions of the plant.

Those interested in the tour before the hearing should call Thibeault at (203) 294-1649, ext. 3029, well in advance.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Zandri plans debate-watching party

As published in the Record Journal, Thursday September 27, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
rblair@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2225
Twitter:@RussellBlairRJ

WALLINGFORD — Democratic Town Councilor Jason Zandri is inviting the public to a viewing party at Zandri’s Stillwood Inn for the first presidential debate on Wednesday, Oct. 3.

Zandri organized a similar event in 2008 that drew 50 to 60 people. He’s hoping for a bigger turnout this year.

“I wanted to see if we could do it more formally,” Zandri said. “I want it to be as nonpartisan as possible. The debate itself is always interesting. And when you get 100 people in a room you get to hear different perspectives, which are always refreshing.”

The event is scheduled from 7 to 11 p.m. at the banquet hall, at 1074 S. Colony Road.

The debate between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney will take place with five weeks remaining before Election Day.

“Debating is a muscle that doesn’t get used very often,” said Alan Schroeder, a journalism professor at Northeastern University and the author of “Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV.”

“Mitt Romney is better toned because he came off 20plus primary debates,” Schroeder said. “President Obama has not been on a debate stage in four years.”

Zandri said he supports Obama, but he is still looking forward to hearing what both candidates say.

“There’s always more substance,” he said. “This gives more background and depth and helps you understand the candidate’s line of thinking. It divulges better what they are running on.”

Republican Town Councilor John LeTourneau, a Romney supporter, said the presidential debates are usually informative, “but it depends on how it’s done and what are the questions asked.”

“If there are hard questions and hard answers, you get to know the person a little better,” he said.

LeTourneau said he doesn’t want to see the candidates attack each other.

“I want to hear what you are going to do to fix the fix that we’re in,” he said.

Wednesday’s debate, to be held in Denver, will focus on domestic policy. A second debate, a town hall-style session, is scheduled for Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., and the final debate, on foreign policy, is slated for Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, and Vice President Joe Biden have a debate on Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky.

Several national polls show Obama leading by three to six percentage points, but the president has a wider margin in Connecticut.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll last month, Obama leads Romney 52 percent to 45 percent among likely voters in Connecticut. Twelve percent of Obama voters and 12 percent of Romney backers said they might change their minds.

Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.

Wallingford will seek state grant for Simpson Court parking lot

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday September 26, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
lsalerno@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2235
Twitter:@LaurieSalernoRJ 

WALLINGFORD — After lengthy and often contentious periods of public comments at a regular meeting Tuesday, town councilors gave the green light for the town to seek a $500,000 state grant for upgrades to the Simpson Court parking lot.

“I’ve never seen so much energy expelled trying to kill a good project for … Wallingford,” Councilor John Le-Tourneau, a Republican, said of statements by opponents of the plan. “This is the front yard of our town, we have to fix it up. If we do nothing, we will have nothing.”

The council voted 6-2 to allow the town to apply for the grant and again for a separate resolution supporting improvements to the lot, with councilors Nicholas Economopoulos and Jason Zandri, both Democrats, casting the “no” votes. Republican Craig Fishbein, another opponent of the project, was absent. The grant would come from the newly created Main Street Investment Fund that’s administered by the Office of Policy and Management. Friday marks the deadline to submit the grant application. There is no guarantee the town would receive the grant. Projected upgrades include new lighting, a new retaining wall, drainage work, paving and other improvements.

Councilors said they’ve considered the proposal carefully since it was first presented at a Sept. 11 council meeting, with some saying they’ve taken time off from work to research the topic.

The vote followed a lengthy public comment period with both supporters and opponents of the project, and the specter of another referendum loomed large.

Last November, residents rejected a plan approved by the Town Council to use $500,000 in town funds to repair and up-grade the same lot, which is owned by Simpson Court property owners but was built by the town and has been leased year by year by the town since 1961 for public parking.

This year’s plan is similar in scope but differs in funding. Money would come from the state grant, and there would be a $25,000 contribution from each of the four Simpson Court property owners and $10,000 from Holy Trinity School. The Simpson Court owners would receive reimbursement for half the cost, but Holy Trinity would not. If the grant is approved by OPM, the lot would be leased by the town for 30 years.

Despite the difference in funding sources, some say the public still opposes the project.

Resident Robert Gross, who, along with Geno Zandri, led the petition drive to call a referendum last year, asked Town Attorney Gerald Farrell Sr. at the meeting to have paperwork for another referendum ready for residents who “are upset by this and want a referendum.” Last year Gross and Zandri collected more than 2,500 signatures from registered Wallingford voters to force the referendum.

Zandri said the community made its message on the project clear last year, and councilors should reject the new plan.

“Think about who you’re representing in this town — this referendum, the parking lot thing, was definitely overturned overwhelmingly. If you do, you’ll vote this thing down,” Zandri said.

Representatives of business development groups such as Wallingford Center Inc. and the town’s Economic Development Commission overwhelmingly supported the plan, along with several residents.

“This is a community resource, it is not a parking lot,” said EDC Chairman Joe Mirra. “When you take into consideration the amount of world headquarters this town has, Choate right down the block … that parking lot is giving a statement every day.”

Resident Shauna Simon-Glidden said that if the town does not try for the money, it will just go to another area.

“The money’s going to go somewhere. This is going to invest in our town,” Simon-Glidden said. “I think it’s really important to look at some of the surrounding areas where people have to pay for parking — which would be a detriment for Wallingford.”

Resident Richard Caplan said he thinks the town should apply for the grant, but use the funds for the town-owned lots — most notably the lots behind businesses farther down Center Street, where there are more business vacancies, rather than North Main Street properties that he said are doing well.

“This is a matter of priorities. The mayor has found those who need it the least to give the most to,” Caplan said, alleging cronyism among councilors and the mayor. “These are million-dollar properties … we’re going to spend half a million dollars when the town’s parking lots are in such crappy shape.”

“I kind of resent some of the statements that you made, Mr. Caplan,” said Council Chairman Robert Parisi, saying the councilors would vote their consciences — not because of any backroom deals or friendships.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said that because the town had already done the planning, design and other preparatory work for the Simpson Court site, it was the only project far enough along to be submitted, considering the grant’s time constraints. Town officials say they heard about the grant in late June, but didn’t have details until an early August workshop held by the state.

“We have something that is already designed and there is no way we can put together our grant applications for other sites (in time),” Dickinson said. Upgrading the other parking lots farther down the hill on Center Street would also likely call for public-private partnerships, as the public lots are small and separated by private lots. “Otherwise we’ll be doing little small areas within private areas.”

Other residents asked what would occur if the town received the grants but had hidden costs, or wasn’t given the full amount. Dickinson said the project would not begin if there was not enough money for it — that he wouldn’t supplement with town funds.

Don Roe, of the town’s Program Planning staff, said he believed there was a contingency fund within the cost estimate.

In other business, the council approved a one-year agreement with Local 1183, representing 135 town clerical staff and employees in the Sewer, Engineering, and Public Works departments. The contract comes with a 1.75 percent pay increase, according to Personnel Director Terence Sullivan.

Councilors also approved a transfer that would allocate $100,000 to the town’s Workers’ Compensation reserve account from excess funds from the last fiscal year’s insurance funds for the town and the Board of Education.

Will there be another referendum over a Wallingford parking lot?

As published in the Record Journal Thursday September 27, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
lsalerno@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2235
Twitter:@LaurieSalernoRJ 

WALLINGFORDThe Simpson Court parking lot could be the subject of another referendum, after the Town Council gave town staff the go ahead to apply for a state grant that could provide $500,000 for repairs and upgrades to the site.

Several residents vocally opposed the town’s plans for the lot at Tuesday night’s meeting, and resident Robert Gross requested during public comment that Town Attorney Gerald Farrell Sr. provide him the paperwork to start the referendum procedures.

Gross, along with Geno Zandri, led last year’s fight against the town’s plan to make $500,000 in repairs, using town money, to the privately owned but publicly used Simpson Court lot. The two led a group that gathered more than 2,500 signatures of registered voters on a petition to force a November 2011 referendum. Residents voted down the plan, 4,120-2,768.

In this year’s plan, the repairs would be the same, but the funding source would differ. In a 6-2 vote Tuesday night, the council gave the town the green light to apply for a grant from the state’s Main Street Improvement Fund, administered by the Office of Policy and Management. The town built the lot in 1961 on the land of Simpson Court property owners and has since been leasing it year to year for public parking.

Each of the four Simpson Court property owners would contribute $25,000 toward repairs under the current proposal, with half of that to be reimbursed by money from the grant. Holy Trinity School — which would as part of the project get repairs to a retaining wall on its property — would put in $10,000, without any reimbursement. If improvements are made, the owners would grant the town a 30 year lease.

Gross could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Geno Zandri said that the group was discussing whether to petition for a referendum now, or wait to see if the town received the money or not. The public would have another chance to oppose the lot improvements if the money came in and the council made a resolution to accept it for use on the lot, Farrell said Tuesday night.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that if they get the grant, there will be a referendum,” Geno Zandri said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s identical to what we had before. It’s taxpayers’ money no matter where it comes from.”

If residents decide to petition for a referendum on the resolution, they will have 30 days from Wednesday to obtain about 2,460 signatures, or 10 percent of those registered to vote, according to Town Clerk Barbara Thompson.

From there, the names need to be authenticated by the clerk’s office, Corporation Counsel Janis Small said. Then, councilors would have another meeting in which they would be given the opportunity to repeal their vote. If they choose not to, an election must be held within 60 days, Small said.

The last referendum cost the town about $30,000 to pay for ballots, installation of phones, poll workers, costs of renting special trucks for deliveries and other costs, Republican Registrar of Voters Chet Miller said.

It would be “a couple of months at least,” before a vote would be held, according to Small.

At the meeting, some councilors said they felt some residents who signed last year’s petition and some who voted had been provided misinformation or partial information by people working to overturn the decision.

John Sullivan, a Democrat, said Wednesday that he had seen this first hand at last year’s Celebrate Wallingford.

“What I have a problem with is when people don’t tell residents, voters, the facts. I’m sure that the greater majority of those soliciting told the truth and answered questions honestly,” Sullivan said. “However, I witnessed several instances where the solicitor was not telling the truth.”

He said he heard a solicitor embellish the plan in speaking to residents, saying there were connections between councilors and the mayor and the business owners at the site, and that he shouldn’t trust Sullivan when he came up to talk to him.

Geno Zandri denied Sullivan’s claim. “We were above board on everything we did,” he said. Zandri did say some voters may have been confused when voting because people had to vote yes to say that they didn’t want the project.

Though confusing to some, the wording was done by statute, Small said. Residents were voting to repeal a resolution, not voting in favor of something, she said. So residents were voting “Yes” to repeal the council’s decision to repair the lot, not “yes” for repairs on the lot.

Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat, who was one of two “no” votes on the mayor’s proposal on Tuesday, said he thinks it would be logical for those interested in holding a referendum to wait to see if the town receives the money or not. Jason Zandri is Geno Zandri’s son, and was heavily involved in the last referendum, before he was elected a town councilor.

Jason Zandri said he figured the Tuesday vote would go as it did. “I think everybody up there voted their conscience,” Zandri said.

He said he thinks the approval sets a bad precedent for future public-private parking lot repair projects.

Tom Laffin, a Republican, said it all comes down to the perception of the Simpson Court parking lot, saying these projects should not be portrayed as spending public money on private land.

“We’re going to lease it — in a sense we legally own it for 30 years,” Laffin said. “You can’t make the argument that it’s private property.”

The town clerk’s office and the Law Department each said no one had been by to pick up the paperwork for a petition as of late afternoon Wednesday.

Monday, September 24, 2012

WALLINGFORD TOWN COUNCIL AGENDA ADDENDUMS for Tuesday Spetember 25th

11. Consider and Approve a Resolution of the Wallingford Town Council approving the improvement of public parking in the Simpson Court parking lot located between Center Street and Church Street.



12. Consider and Approve a Resolution authorizing the Mayor to submit a grant application to the Office of Policy Management of the State of Connecticut for the Simpson Court Rear Parking Lot Improvement Project under the Main Street Investment Fund Program and authorize the Mayor to sign the Main Street Investment Fund application and to administer the Project - Mayor

AGENDA - TOWN OF WALLINGFORD, CONNECTICUT REGULAR TOWN COUNCIL MEETING: TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 25, 2012

Town Council Chambers

TUESDAY

September 25, 2012

6:30 P.M

AGENDA

Moment of Silence

1. Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call

2. Correspondence

3. Consent Agenda

3a. Consider and Approve Tax Refunds (#164 - #205) totaling $21,586.10 Acct. # 001-1000-010-1170 - Tax Collector

3b. Consider and Approve two (2) Merit Review Increases - Personnel

3c. Consider and Approve a Transfer in the Amount of $700 FY 2011-2012 to Office Expenses & Supplies Acct # 100-12000-56100 from Salaries & Wages Acct # 100-12000-51000 - Personnel

3d. Acceptance of Donation and Appropriation in the Amount of $230 Youth and Social Services Special Fund to Donations Acct # 2134002-47152 and to Expenditures Acct # 21340100-58830 – Youth and Social Services

3e. Consider and Approve a Transfer in the Amount of $10,000 FY 2011-2012 to Purchased Services-Ambulance Revenue Recovery Acct # 10020150-56778 from Contingency Acct # 10019000-58820 – Fire Chief

3f. Consider and Approve an Appropriation in the Amount of $1,200 to Civil Preparation- Emergency Relief Acct # 10010800- New Line and to State Grant Revenue- Miscellaneous Acct # 1009051-45122 – Civil Preparedness

3g. Consider and Approve an Appropriation in the Amount of $800 to Civil Preparation- Emergency Relief Acct # 10010800- New Line and to Contingency Acct # 10019000- 58820 – Civil Preparedness

3h. Consider and Approve a Transfer in the Amount of $1,500 to Regular Salaries & Wages Acct # 10010650-51000 from Office Expenses and Supplies Acct # 10010650-56100 – Town Clerk

3i. Consider and Approve a five (5) year Lease Agreement between the Town of Wallingford and Communidad Hispana de Wallingford, Inc. (SCOW) for use of 284 Washington Street – Mayor

3j. Consider and Approve a one (1) year Lease Agreement between the Town of Wallingford and Communidad Hispana de Wallingford, Inc. (SCOW) to utilize the first floor of 280 Washington Street (the former Civil Preparedness Building) – Mayor

3k. Consider and Approve a Resolution authorizing the Mayor to enter into an Agreement with the State of Connecticut Department of Transportation for the purchase of alternative/clean fuel vehicle(s) and to execute any amendments and revisions thereto – State and Federal Program Administrator

3l. Consider and Approve a Resolution authorizing the Mayor to execute and file an agreement between the State Department of Education and the Town of Wallingford for a grant for FY 2012-2013 not to exceed $30,000 for a Wallingford Youth Service Bureau and to provide such additional information, to execute such other documents as may be required by the Department, to execute a Grant Action request with the State of Connecticut for state financial assistance, if such agreement is offered, to execute any amendments and revisions thereto and to act as the authorized representative of the Town of Wallingford – Youth and Social Services

3m. Consider and Approve a Resolution authorizing the Mayor to execute and file an application between the State Department of Education and the Town of Wallingford for an enhancement grant for FY 2012-2013 not to exceed $10,000

and to provide such additional information, to execute such other documents as may be required by the Department, to execute a Grant Action request with the State of Connecticut for state financial assistance, if such an agreement is offered, to execute any amendments and revisions thereto and to act as the authorizing representative of the Town of Wallingford – Youth and Social Services

3n. Consider and Approve a Lease Agreement between the Town of Wallingford and High Road Academy for use of Community Pool Parking Lot between September 2012 and no later that June 19, 2013 for a total rent of $200 – Parks and Recreation Department

3o. Approve minutes of Regular Town Council meeting of September 11, 2012

4. Items Removed from the Consent Agenda

5. PUBLIC QUESTION & ANSWER PERIOD

6. Discussion and Possible Action regarding the Local 1183 Contract Tentative Agreement - Personnel

7. Consider and Approve a Transfer for FY 2011-2012 in the Amount of $100,000 to Workers’ Compensation Acct # 10012100-52120 from – Health Insurance $45,000 Acct # 10012100-55955 Property Casualty Insurance- Board of Education $21,000 Acct # 10012150-55945 Property Casualty Insurance- General Government $34,000 Acct # 10012150-55950 - Personnel

8. Consider and Approve a Bid Waiver Request for Pension Experience Study by Hooker and Holcombe, Inc. for a proposed fee of $16,000 - Personnel

9. Discussion and Possible Action for Appointing a Town Parking Authority – Councilor Economopoulos

10. Executive Session pursuant to §1-200 (6)(D) of the Connecticut General Statutes with respect to the purchase, sale and/or leasing of property – Mayor

WALLINGFORD – Parking report for Wallingford Center

At the recent Council meeting I asked if we ever did at needs study specific to the parking lot and the need for public parking in Wallingford Center with specific reference to the private property lot at Simpson Court.

While I could not seem to get a straight answer I already knew of an older report that reviewed parking in Wallingford Center that was done in 2004 (with a few updates as of 2007) done by the Planning and Zoning office and staff titled “Parking in Wallingford’s Central Business District” which I have scanned and posted online.

That document can be found via “main document” page at http://www.zandri.net/PDF/main_document.pdf

I am not going to go into my interpretation of the details of the parking needs assessment, I will do that at the Council Meeting on Tuesday September 25th as I do expect an addendum to discuss this matter again.

I will point to the “PARKING NEEDS” assessment as outlined from pages 3 to 10 as well as the results and further details on pages 11 and 12.

There is additional information within the report (details of the parking space turnover study, etc.).

There are also other items broken out in their own documents such as the
Downtown Street Parking at http://www.zandri.net/PDF/Downtown_street_parking.pdf as well as the “Parking space occupancy and major downtown employers” at http://www.zandri.net/PDF/Parking_space_occupancy_and_major_downtown_employers.pdf which shows the Parking Space Occupancy Rate and then finally there is the Parking Space Occupancy Rate update from May of 2007 available via http://www.zandri.net/PDF/Parking_space_occupancy_rate_May_2007.pdf 

I am sure the conversation is going to be plentiful on Tuesday September 25th – be sure to be there or watch it on Government TV Channel 20.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Public Presidential Debate Watch -Wednesday, October 3, 2012 7:00 PM

If you are already planning to watch the presidential debate please consider joining us - one and all - and engage in the discussion and participate.

The event is free - the doors open at 7PM

https://my.barackobama.com/page/event/detail/gsbdg2

Public Presidential Debate Watch
(2012 Debate Watch Party)

#2012debates: The first presidential debate of the 2012 election is Wednesday, October 3rd. The public is invited to gather to this free event to watch the debate together and make plans to get involved for the final month of the election. Join us for what is sure to be a fun evening!

While not actually nonpartisan one and all are invited to watch, discuss and debate.

Time:
Wednesday, October 3, 2012 7:00 PM - 11:00 PM

Host:
Jason Zandri

Location:
Zandri's Stillwood Inn
1074 South Colony RD
Wallingford, CT 06492

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

WALLINGFORD - Trying to make a name in the 90th House District

As published in the Record Journal, Saturday September 15, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
rblair@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2225
Twitter:@RussellBlairRJ

Recognition is big problem for Darter in campaign vs. Fritz

WALLINGFORD - Republican Guy Darter has been going door-to-door since June in an effort to convince voters to elect him to the 90th House District and send home 28 year state Rep.Mary Fritz. Darter, a Cheshire businessman making his first run for elected office, won his party’s nomination in May and has been working hard to get his name known. He also met with voters at the recent Cheshire Fall Festival. “I’ve gotten a great response,” he said. “I’ve been talking to them about the issues. I think people are fed up with the state government.”

Fritz, a Wallingford Democrat, was first elected in 1982, lost in 1984 and has won every election since. In addition to sending out mailers to her constituents and going door-to-door, Fritz has been having meet and greets in some of the new neighborhoods her district added in last year’s redistricting.

“In an informal atmosphere like that, people feel comfortable to talk about anything and everything,” she said.

Fritz said she does her best to be available to her constituents and is constantly meeting and talking with constituents at church or in the grocery store. She said she routinely appears at community events, such as the Fall Festival and Wallingford’s recent 9/11 memorial service.

Both Darter and Fritz qualified for public campaign financing. The candidates received $26,850 from the state’s election fund after raising at least $5,000 on their own from at least 150 donors from their district.

Darter said his primary focus if elected will be to reduce the tax burden — particularly on senior citizens, by eliminating state income tax on social security benefits — and make the state more business friendly. He pointed to a recent study by the Institute for Truth in Accounting that ranked Connecticut’s financial state as the worst in the nation.

“Spending is out of control,” Darter said. “Democrats have controlled the General Assembly 28 of the last 30 years. (Fritz) is a Democratic leader. She can’t run from it.”

Fritz considers herself a moderate Democrat and said she has voted against several bills that weren’t in the best interests of her constituents, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s most recent budget that raised taxes by $1.8 billion. She noted that the Institute for Truth in Accounting report only details Connecticut’s fiscal status through mid-2010 and she believes things have gotten better since then.

“I think the jobs bill has been helpful,” Fritz said.

Darter is a believer in term limits and a true part-time legislature.

He wants to limit state legislators to five terms.

“A state government should not be run by career politicians,” he said.

Fritz said she works hard on behalf of her constituents and it’s not uncommon for her to meet with one on a Saturday morning to work on a problem. She said some of her recent accomplishments including working to bring EDAC Technologies Corp. to the former Pratt & Whitney plant in Cheshire and fighting the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection over phosphorus regulations that could cost local towns millions.

“I worked for my community on a lot of issues,” she said.

Darter, Fritz and other candidates are expected to appear at the Cheshire-Wallingford League of Women Voters forum on Oct. 11 at Cheshire Town Hall, where they will field questions from the audience. The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Monday, September 17, 2012

WALLINGFORD - Meeting to answer trash plant questions

As published in the Record Journal Saturday September 15, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
lsalerno@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2235
Twitter:@LaurieSalernoRJ 

WALLINGFORDThe state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the owners of the town’s trash-to-energy plant will hold an informational public meeting in October, triggered by a petition from residents with concerns about the plant.

Representatives of Covanta, the New Jersey-based company that runs the Wallingford plant at 530 S. Cherry St., and the DEEP will be at Town Hall on Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. to answer questions about the facility.

Every day, the plant burns 420 tons of trash from Wallingford, Meriden, Cheshire, North Haven and Hamden, according to Covanta. The process produces 11 megawatts of energy daily, which Connecticut Light and Power purchases. Covanta has applied to the department to renew its Solid Waste permit. After an initial and then more in-depth technical review, the DEEP tentatively approved the permit, with a 30-day period for public comment.

Resident Robert Gross, a longtime critic of the plant, submitted a 25-name petition to the DEEP during the period, which forced a hearing. Gross said he and other residents are concerned about the facility’s previous Environmental Protection Agency violations and the odors he says sometimes emanate from the facility.

“You can go down there on a good day and get some real strong whiffs of trash and burning - especially in the summer months when the air is heavier,” Gross said.

After submitting the petition, he and two other residents met with representatives from DEEP and Covanta to discuss some of the issues that led them to object to the permitting. Some issues were resolved, according to Gross and the DEEP, but it was decided to hold a public information session so all residents can ask questions of both the authority and the business.

The information session is preferable to a public hearing, Gross said. In a public hearing, the public merely voices concerns about the direct issues that are logged for the DEEP’s consideration. But in an information session, the company and DEEP can answer questions raised at the meeting, or get back later to inquiring parties. In this format, the public also doesn’t have to stick to questions related solely to solid waste permitting; they can talk about air emissions, which is covered in a separate air quality permit that will come up for renewal next year, according to a DEEP spokesman.

“My hope is that it’s very productive dialogue and that we satisfy the questions and the concerns that the residents have,” said Gabrielle Frigon, permitting supervisor at the DEEP. Frigon has been working with both Gross and Covanta on the process.

Covanta representatives said they, too, were looking forward to the October session.

“We’re always open to letting the public know what we do at the plant and help them understand what we do with the plant,” said James Regan, Covanta’s manager of corporate communications. Regan said the meeting “should provide plenty of information and address concerns if there are concerns.”

Gross said he believes some of the conversation will involve the plant’s previous emissions violations.

The state attorney general’s office sued Covanta in 2010 and won the case after the plant had two emissions violations in two years. The company was forced to pay $400,000, split between the state treasurer and DEEP.

Testing showed that one of the plant’s emissions stacks was letting out more than twice the dioxins than are allowed. The unit was shut down and upgraded to fix the problem, according to Regan, and is now running below the legal limit.

“Tests have come back since we’ve restarted the unit, and it’s been well within compliance,”Regan said. Frigon said the petitioners could still force a public hearing if they are unsatisfied by the outcome of the informational session. “We want to make sure that the public absolutely maintains their right to be heard,” Frigon said.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Wallingford – Editorial Cartoon for Sunday / Editorial - Of lot and wall

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Regarding the decaying retaining wall delineating Wallingford’s Simpson Court parking lot from Holy Trinity School playground, a fundamental question emerges: Who built it?

Perhaps, as Jeff Danziger’s editorial cartoon below avers, “We the People built it.”

This much-ballyhooed wall — technically determined to be on school owned property — was built by people who, at the time, took ownership for its raison d’ĂȘtre and subsequent construction. Then, as now, people are responsible for maintaining its structural integrity — defining anew its integral role in assuring safety and stability.

There is much riding on this behemoth of a wall other than sheer mass of density related to that which it retains. Children play here. Simpson Court parking lot’s physical stability is upheld. It’s a location with hybrid purpose — private/ commercial, with added benefit of municipal parking.

It can either become a protracted thorny-thicket topic (depending on one’s political/philosophical stripes) or, as columnist Steven Knight suggests in his “From Wallingford” commentary on this page, a let’s-make-hay-while-the-sun- shines opportunity for resolution.

Wedding a much-needed rehab of the parking lot to its abutting wall described above manifestly makes sense. In our news story of September 13, we noted that Wallingford built this lot and has leased it from businesses for public parking since 1961 for a nominal fee. A plan to upgrade the lot using $500,000 of town money last year was denied implementation by voters in a November referendum. Under the new plan, state funds would cover most costs — Simpson Court commercial property owners would pay $20,000 for the project and be reimbursed half, while Holy Trinity School, which abuts the lot westerly, would pay $10,000, receiving no reimbursement.

Sunlight for municipal hay, in this case, is afforded by what may indeed prove a providential state grant whose purpose and mission dovetail propitiously with town needs. It’s title — Main Street Investment Fund — is quintessentially appropriate for this off-Main project. It’s money intended for projects which improve local commercial centers: stimulating new businesses while keeping centers attractive to shoppers.

By all means, both private and public, keep Simpson Court’s vicinity attractive . . . and safe.

Town Council and civic debate over a multi-pronged proposition involving private, commercial, town and church entities seeking proper conclusion to a mutually- shared problem is, quite naturally, expected. At the end of the day (and before Knight’s cows come home), taking full advantage of a loan with limited shelf life is compelling — especially since safety and security are elements amplifying the percussive tick of Wallingford’s agenda clock.

We urge that reasonable accommodation and prudence guide this project (without rancor) to satisfactory conclusion while that sun shines, but before municipal cows come home.

WALLINGFORD - Wooding-Caplan lot project stalled

Many unhappy paving won’t be finished for Celebrate Wallingford, while others still think parking isn’t needed

As published in the Record Journal Sunday September 16, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
rblair@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2225
Twitter:@RussellBlairRJ

WALLINGFORD - Work on a temporary municipal parking lot on the town-owned Wooding-Caplan property is stalled, but officials say they are confident, if permits come through, that construction will be completed before winter.

Town Engineer John Thompson said the town is still waiting for permits from the state Department of Transportation to begin work on the Wallace Avenue portion of the project. The town plans to create 100 parking spaces at a cost of about $200,000.

“We’re moving ahead but we’re not moving as fast as I would like,” Thompson said. “We’re pushing for the permits. The state knows it’s important to get this done.”

Thompson said town crews began a paving project on North Plains Industrial Road last Sunday and are storing the millings from that job to use for the temporary parking lot. Once the permits are approved, the work on the parking lot shouldn’t take too long, he said.

There are three aspects to the project: work to improve the parking lot surrounding the police station, which has already begun; the widening of Wallace Avenue into a standard, two-lane town road; and laying down millings to create a temporary lot with an expected lifespan of seven to 10 years.

Officials had hoped to have the lot done in time for Celebrate Wallingford, the two-day festival that will be held uptown this year, but that’s not likely to happen with the event three weeks away.

“Am I disappointed? Yes,” Republican Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau said. “Am I surprised? No. If this was a private entity, it would be done already, but because we’re a municipality we have to jump through so many hoops it’s incredible.”

Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said it would be “a travesty” if the new lot is not done in time for Celebrate Wallingford.

“I think it stinks,” he said. “I brought this issue to the forefront in February with the intent of it being done quickly.”

Elizabeth Landow, the executive director of Wallingford Center Inc., the downtown business advocacy group, said she was told by town staff that the lot should be available during Celebrate Wallingford even if the project isn’t complete, but other arrangements have also been made.

“We hired a trolley and we’ll be using that to bring people from the parking lots at Doolittle Park and behind Brothers Restaurant,” she said. “But we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can park cars [on Wooding-Caplan].”

LeTourneau and Fishbein believe the temporary lot will get heavy use because they say people are already parking there in its current condition: an unlighted patch of grass.

“Go on a Friday or Saturday night and look at the cars parked back there,” Le-Tourneau said.

In a letter to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., Landow said her organization supported the Wooding-Caplan project.

“Downtown revitalization, to which the town has historically committed so many resources, is at an important crossroad,” she wrote. “The proposal to install temporary parking in the Wooding Caplan area is a very positive step in continuing the process. ... Decent parking improves the downtown which is an asset of the entire town.”

Landow proposed additional improvements to the other town-owned lots downtown, including the repair and resurfacing of the pavement,striping, lighting improvements, better signage and landscaping.

But others have raised questions about whether there is a need for more parking. A 2004 study ordered by the Planning and Zoning Commission concluded that there was adequate parking in the downtown area but “customers must be willing to park in rear lots and walk up to a block to their destination.”

Among the recommendations included in the study was better advertising and a marketing plan for the parking that’s currently available.

“Education is also the key to convincing people that parking in a downtown might mean walking as far as a block to reach their destination, but that it is probably less walking than they do each week at the grocery store,” according to the study.

Democratic Town Councilor Jason Zandri agreed.

“I think we need a better outlining of public parking in the downtown,” he said. “There’s plenty of parking behind Town Hall. It’s not that far.”

“For some reason, a couple of blocks seems onerous,” Thompson said, noting that in larger cities such as Hartford or New Haven it’s common to park and walk a block or two.

Democratic Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos said he disagreed with the project from the start, believing the town should spend money on improving other downtown lots.

“I can’t see spending money on something temporary,” he said.

Economopoulos said he wasn’t surprised that substantial work on the project hadn’t begun. He noted that last year he had proposed creating a parking commission to develop a plan for downtown parking.

“It’s another example of a lack of planning and a lack of follow-through by our town,” Economopoulos said.

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Photos by Christopher Zajac, courtesy of the Record-Journal

Friday, September 14, 2012

Simpson lot owners have ‘skin in the game’

As published in the Record Journal Friday September 14, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
lsalerno@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2235
Twitter:@LaurieSalernoRJ

WALLINGFORD - Some Simpson Court property owners are looking to dispel negative notions about their long-term agreement with the town to provide public parking in their back lots.

This week, some town councilors said the property owners would get a cushy deal if the town pursued a state grant for $500,000 for maintenance and upgrades, including lighting, to the parking lot behind Simpson Court.

In the plan, the owners would also put in $20,000 each for the work and be reimbursed $10,000. The grant allows for this type of public-private partnership. The project would also expand the public parking area from the current 60 or so feet at the back of the lot to encompass more of the until- now privately used part of the lot, and upgrade the whole area. The council is expected to vote Sept. 25 on whether to allow town staff to submit a grant application. “They get their property completely refurbished. Every other business in this town collects their rent, puts some of this aside for maintenance and upkeep — these businesses don’t have to,” Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat, said at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

But some Simpson Court property owners say the project is a way for the town to make up for the years it has neglected the lot.

“The lot is really too far gone to do regular maintenance,” said Mary Pimentel, part owner of North Main Street Realty, which has owned buildings at 36-40 N. Main St. since 1985.

The town built the parking lot on Simpson Court property in 1961. Since then, it has leased the lot from property owners on a year-to-year basis for $1, and in the agreements has said it would provide maintenance on the lot.

But aside from yearly snowplowing, Pimentel hasn’t seen any repairs done on the lot since she purchased the property, she said.

While several councilors have been talking about making sure owners have “skin in the game” by putting more money into the upgrades, Pimentel said the owners already have made a major investment.

“Our stance is we do have ‘skin in the game;’ our skin is the property,” Pimentel said. “We own that property, we pay taxes on the property, we don’t get any money at all. Their payment is that they will maintain the property.”

The five properties have four owners: North Main Street Realty, F&M Bank Wallingford LLC, Masonic Temple Corp., and Fred Ulbrich Jr.

Ron Hansen, president of Masonic Compass Lodge No. 9, which owns 48 N. Main St., said that if the application for the grant is rejected by the council, he may talk with other property owners about filing a lawsuit. Despite property owners’ paying taxes on the property since 1961, the town hasn’t held up its end of the bargain, he said.

“The town never maintained the property. Now it’s in disrepair all these years later,” Hansen said. He said he and other Masons constantly pick up trash and pluck sumac trees that take root in the lot. But he said that in the past few months, the town’s Public Works Department has come in and filled some holes and made other repairs that stanched the growth. Hansen said that work is the only time he’s seen the town do anything on the parking lot.

The owners of F&M and Ulbrich could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Both Hansen and Pimentel said the town had been talking with property owners about making major repairs and upgrades to the lot since 1999, and plans had been in place a long time, until they were knocked down in a November 2011 referendum that some believe was stoked by partisan politics in an election year.

After the referendum, Jack McGuire, owner of two of the four properties, pulled out of the longstanding lease agreement and made his portion of the lot private.

Dickinson said he hopes the outcome is different this time. “This has been public parking since 1961. To have it not be public parking — I’m concerned that it will have a negative effect,” Dickinson said. “We’re actually losing parking, that is a concern to me.”

He rejects the idea that the town has not maintained the lot, saying that much of the lot that is in poor condition is the private portion.

“Look at all the lumps and bumps: A lot of that isn’t the town’s,” Dickinson said. “It’s another of the complexities of this, with all the variables that can certainly affect a person’s perceptions.”

Councilor Craig Fishbein, a Republican, said Thursday that he would likely be in favor of having the town resurface the lot, but he’s not in favor of the major upgrades such as lighting and the reconstruction of a retaining wall on the lot. For those types of improvements, he said, the town should ask for $50,000 from each property owner and $100,000 from Holy Trinity School for the retaining wall determined to be on the school’s property.

“What I have said from the very beginning of this — their contribution should be the same as the town’s. If they don’t have the money, we put liens on the property that are payable over 30 years,” Fishbein said. He said he could see another referendum vote coming the town’s way if it submits the grant and receives the funding.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

WALLINGFORD - Simpson lot plan: ‘Deja vu,’ some say

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday September 12, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
lsalerno@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2235
Twitter:@LaurieSalernoRJ

WALLINGFORD - Town councilors argued with town staff Tuesday night about a proposal to apply for a state grant to repair the Simpson Court parking lot, with councilors calling the conversation “deja vu.”

“It’s actually a slap in the face to our taxpayers, who resoundingly defeated the last plan,” said Councilor Craig Fishbein, a Republican, referring to a previous Simpson Court lot upgrade proposal using solely town funds that was overturned in a referendum last November.

Councilors are expected to vote on whether to apply for the grant at their next meeting, on Sept. 25. There is no assurance that the town, if it applies, will get the grant.

Tuesday night, the mayor and town staff presented two items related to the Simpson Court lot: Corporation Counsel Janis Small’s opinion that the town is not liable for repairing a deteriorating retaining wall for the lot that abuts Holy Trinity School, and a plan to repair the wall and make other improvements to the lot by applying for a $500,000 state grant.

Town Engineer John Thompson and Small explained why they believe the retaining wall was not built by the town. They said that architectural plans for a 1961 Parking Authority project that created the Simpson Court lot — or rather, extended an existing lot — mention an existing concrete retaining wall. Holy Trinity school officials and others had speculated that the town had built the wall during the construction of the lot.

“Based on examination of these documents, it’s very clear to me that the wall existed in 1960-1961,” Thompson said.

After reading the bid documents from the 1961 project provided by the town and a letter from land surveyor Rosalind Page — commissioned by the school to look at the documents — that said the town built the wall, Councilor John LeTourneau, a Republican, disagreed with that conclusion.

“I think there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done to this,” LeTourneau said, explaining that a number of questions still need answers.

The discussion moved on to the repair project.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. presented his plan to have town staff apply for a $500,000 grant from the Main Street Investment Fund grant program, through the state Office of Policy and Management. The grant would pay for repairs to the retaining wall and other improvements to the lot, which is owned by abutting business owners but has been leased to the town annually for public parking since the 1960s.

Sept. 28 is the deadline to apply for the grant. Abutting property owners would be expected to pay $20,000 for repairs to the lot and would be reimbursed $10,000 through the grant money. Holy Trinity School would be asked to pay $10,000 and would not be reimbursed.

“It really means an improvement of the area, making it safer, providing lights, amenities, really an extension of the streetscape program on Center and Main Street,” Dickinson said.

Three councilors — Democrats Jason Zandri and Nick Economopoulos and Fishbein — opposed applying for the grant, saying the new plan was a rehash of the town’s proposal of a year ago.

Fishbein asked Dickinson why the town would choose to use the grant funding for just the Simpson Court property and no other lots, mentioning a March letter from Wallingford Center Inc. that said repairing town-owned parking lots is one of the town’s top priorities for downtown businesses.

Dickinson said that surveys and plans for the Simpson lot were already in place, and that the town would not be able to do the same preliminary work in time to meet the deadline on other parking lots.

“We will not qualify for it trying to suddenly do some work on other areas that have not been surveyed,” Dickinson said. “It takes six months or more to put together a project plan.” Dickinson said the town became aware of the grant in August. Zandri said the town should ask for more money from abutting businesses.

“They get their property completely refurbished. Every other business in this town collects their rent, puts some of this aside for maintenance and upkeep — these businesses don’t have to,” Zandri said.

Councilor Tom Laffin said the council should discuss appropriate fees for the business owners, but said he felt it was important for the town to retain and upgrade the lot.

“It needs to be easier to go out — downtown needs to be easier,” Laffin said.

Ron Hansen, president of the local Masonic Temple, which is one of the surrounding property owners, asked the council whether each business’ property used by the town since 1961 was taxed by the town. Dickinson said it was, but that he did not know at what rate.

Then, Hansen said, “Was it really in fact a free lease?” Hanson supported the town’s bid for a grant.

In other business, the council approved the Board of Education’s contract with its school nurses 6-1 with Economopoulos opposed. The contract runs from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2015, and gives the nurses a 1.5 percent-plus-increment wage increase the first year, and a 1 percent-plus increment increase for each of the second and third years of the contract.

Little time to apply, so councilors suspicious

As published in the Record Journal Thursday September 13, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
lsalerno@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2235
Twitter:@LaurieSalernoRJ

WALLINGFORD - At the center of the Town Council’s current debate on rehabbing the parking lot behind Simpson Court is a state grant — town officials said they acted on it quickly once they learned of its availability, but some councilors believe it could have been looked into earlier.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. sent a letter to the Town Council last week asking it to allow the town to apply for a $500,000 state grant to repair and upgrade the privately owned parking lot behind businesses on Simpson Court. The application is due Sept. 28, and councilors are slated to vote on pursuing the grant at their Sept. 25 meeting.

The town built the lot and has leased it from the businesses for public parking since 1961 for a nominal fee. A plan to upgrade the lot using $500,000 of town money last year was shot down by voters in a November referendum. Under the new plan, the state funds would cover most of the cost, and Simpson Court commercial property owners would pay $20,000 for the project and be reimbursed half, while Holy Trinity School, which abuts the lot to the west, would pay $10,000 and receive no reimbursement.

The grant in question is part of a newly established Main Street Investment Fund. The fund was created as part of a state legislative business incentive package called the Act Promoting Economic Growth and Job Creation in the State, and was signed into law in late 2011. The fund is expected to provide $5 million in municipal and private business grants in fiscal year 2012-13 and another $5 million in 2013-14. The top amount a grantee can receive is $500,000.

The money is intended to go toward town projects that help improve local commercial centers to attract new businesses and keep the centers attractive to shoppers. Examples of projects include streetscapes, decorative lighting, landscaping and cosmetic and structural building improvements, according to a fact sheet for the program.

“It’s to promote business in town commercial centers — if there are sidewalks that are falling apart or if you have a green that is unmaintained, that is not attractive for businesses to come in and expand,” said Dimple Desai, community development director for the Office of Policy and Management. Desai administers the fund.

This month is the fund’s first deadline for grant applications, Desai said. She said she did not know how many organizations would apply, or whether there would be more than one opportunity to apply in this fiscal year.

Some Wallingford councilors criticized the mayor Tuesday night for mentioning the grant with less than a month to apply, saying the town was purposely creating an urgent deadline situation to push through a pet project.

When asked Tuesday why they chose Simpson Court, town staff said that having little time to apply meant the town could only seek funds for already well-planned and surveyed downtown projects — Simpson Court, they said, was the only parking lot that had all the preliminary work completed.

Councilor Nick Economopoulos, a Democrat, said Wednesday by phone he felt the mayor neglected other possible projects and purposely shortened the deadline with the mindset of, “How can I do this instead to get what I really want done?” He also said that he was rebuffed when he asked the town for proof of when it received information on the grant.

The town’s program planner, Don Roe, who is in charge of writing and obtaining grants for the town, said the first he’d seen of the grant was a press release that came out in June, but he and other municipal officials got details of the grant in one of five workshops OPM held in late July and early August.

Desai and OPM literature both corroborate the time of the initial press release and the grant workshops.

“We waited for the workshops; there was that recognition this was a new initiative from them, that a lot of questions were getting asked, from staff people in communities near and far,” Roe said. He attended an Aug. 3 workshop, he said, and brought the information back to the town, heartened that the grant addressed partnerships between municipalities and private businesses. “I think there’s a clear recognition that downtowns take a collaborative effort — it’s not something that’s exclusively government, and not something that’s exclusively private,” Roe said. The grant application requires that town government leaders officially approve the project prior to submission. And one portion says it has to have local and regional support.

Economopoulos said the project doesn’t have public support, evidenced by voters quashing the initial project in referendum.

Desai said local and regional support means the town has already allocated funds to the project or other phases of the project, or planning and zoning has approved it.

When asked whether having a contentious project such as Wallingford’s with a previous referendum vote against it would hurt the town’s chances, Desai said she couldn’t comment on specific cases.

“We’ll review everything, make sure that everybody complies with what is required with the statutes,” Desai said.

Either way, Roe said he would mention the referendum in the grant proposal, if town staff end up getting the OK from the council to submit it. “I think the interest has been to put together a proposal that is quantitatively different than the past one, but still looks to address what are critical issues for downtown and downtown’s vitality,” Roe said.

As for the town’s chances to get the grant if they apply? Dickinson said he felt they were good.

“The support for a number of different elements are good, it’s a commercial area, it’s also got a school, I think that makes it a bit interesting,” Dickinson said.

Council weighs in on mayoral debate

As published in the Record Journal, Monday September 10, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
rblair@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2225
Twitter:@RussellBlairRJ

WALLINGFORD - Even William W. Dickinson Jr.’s most ardent supporters agree that the 29-year mayor can’t serve forever, but whether he’ll be succeeded by another elected mayor or a town manager is a matter of some debate.

Former Town Councilors Michael Brodinsky and Stephen Knight penned columns recently in the Record-Journal for and against, respectively, changing the town’s form of government by introducing a town manager.

“Town managers are specialists,” Brodinsky wrote. “They are all around us. They are doing good jobs. The town manager system is also a proven system of government across the country, too.”

Knight countered Brodinsky’s argument by saying many towns are moving from managers to elected chief executives.

“Rather than dilute authority and diffuse responsibility as does a town manager form of government, many municipalities are investing more of both in a single elected individual so that the government will have a chief executive directly answerable to the electorate,” he wrote. While professional municipal managers are the norm locally — with town managers in Cheshire and Southington and a city manager in Meriden — according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, managers oversee just 28 of the state’s 169 towns and cities. A change in Wallingford’s top executive would require a change in charter, a complicated, drawn-out process that was defeated by voters in 2009. “I’m open to exploring a town manager form of government, but it’s easier said than done,” said Democratic Town Councilor John Sullivan.

Sullivan said if Wallingford ever decided to go the town manager route there would be candidates “with a lot of experience in grant writing and managing small and medium municipalities.”

“That person would have some leverage over a local politician who may not be qualified,” he said. “It’s something we should be open to and look at.”

Democratic Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos said he believes a town manager would help town government run more efficiently.

“Anything that lessens the amount of politics involved in running the town I’m for,” he said.

But other officials disagree. Republican Town Councilor John LeTourneau said the strong mayor form of government has worked well since its introduction in the 1960s.

“If it’s not broken, why do we need to fix it?” he said.

Though town managers may have professional training, Le-Tourneau said he believes the skills necessary to govern the town are “more common sense than anything.”

While he supports the current system of government, Le-Tourneau said he’s not opposed to term limits of four years for the mayor and councilors so more time can be spent working for the town rather than campaigning.

Democratic Councilor Jason Zandri said he likes the idea of electing a mayor every two years, but would like to see the salary increased. Dickinson has not received a raise since at least 2002 and earns $73,140. “With what we are paying people, we’re not getting the candidates because the pay isn’t well enough,” Zandri said.

Zandri said, while he disagrees with Dickinson on some issues, a mayoral form of government “gives people more of a say.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lot of contention over lot repair plans

Wallingford council likely to discuss new idea tonight

As published in the Record Journal Tuesday September 11, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
lsalerno@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2235
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WALLINGFORD - Nearly a year after voters knocked down a plan for the town to repair the parking lot behind Simpson Court, town officials are pitching another idea: using state funding. But some town councilors feel it’s just last year’s plan repackaged.

During tonight’s meeting, the Town Council is expected to discuss Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s proposal to apply for a $500,000 state grant to repair the privately owned but publicly used lot behind the buildings along Simpson Court with access from Center Street.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan last November that would have allowed the town to make $500,000 worth of repairs to the lot, which the town has leased for public parking from surrounding business owners since 1961. The town has hoped to make the investment and maintain the lot in exchange for a 30year lease.

“This has already been brought forward to the residents. The council pushed it through and the residents pushed back. Now all this is doing is coming back. It’s under the guise of a state grant,” said Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat, Monday. Zandri has written two columns adamantly opposing public funding for the lot in his blog over the last week.

But Dickinson said the proposal differs from last year’s bid.

“It’s not the same project. It’s financed differently,” Dickinson said. Instead of having all repairs paid by the town, if Wallingford gets the grant, the repairs would be paid for both by the state and by owners of abutting properties. The state money would come through the Main Street Investment Fund grant program, administered by the Office of Policy and Management. The deadline to apply for the grant is Sept. 28.

According to the proposal, property owners would be asked to contribute $20,000 to the project and receive $10,000 in reimbursement from the state funding. Owners include F&M Bank Wallingford LLC, Masonic Temple Corp., Fred Ulbrich Jr., Gail DeBaise, Barbara Farrell, Mary Lee Pimental and North Main Street Realty. Holy Trinity School would be asked to pay just $10,000, and wouldn’t receive any reimbursement.

The money would go to what some say are much needed repairs. This includes fixing a concrete retaining wall on the property of Holy Trinity School, which administrators say is falling apart. The school came to the council on June 26 to ask if they would help fund repairs to the wall since Holy Trinity administrators believe the town built the wall and lot, though no documentation to that effect has been found.

After being assigned by the council in June to look into the issue, Town Attorney Janis Small said in a letter provided to the council last week that the town has no liability for the wall.

Zandri wants to see a case study done on the lot to see how many people actually use it and if they would be just as well served using the free parking at Town Hall, or some of the other sites throughout town. He said he counted more than 600 open spaces in the downtown area over the weekend.

“There are plenty of spaces. There’s demand 12 times a year,” Zandri said, noting town center concerts and other special events. “Any other time, the Town Hall parking lot is wide open.”

Zandri said he’d like to see the money go to the lots the town owns outright.

Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau, a Republican, disagreed, saying that he’d driven downtown one night this weekend and every lot was packed, with cars even parked on the Wooding-Caplan property which has not yet been paved.

Dickinson said he believes keeping the Simpson lot open is vital to downtown.

“Without the public parking, the businesses don’t get clientele and the businesses start closing. It’s not a good situation for the entire community,” Dickinson said.

LeTourneau said he hasn’t made a decision on the proposal, and would wait until the council discusses it tonight.

Vinny Cervoni, a Republican councilor, said he thinks the town’s new plan is good — with business owners putting in for costs this time around. And it’s necessary, he said, since the town’s lease agreements with the businesses to use the lot say the business owners have to maintain it.

“It puts skin in the game for them,” Cervoni said. “I think it’s an attempt to solve the problem and reduce the direct exposure to the town taxpayers.”

Councilor Craig Fishbein, also a Republican, opposes the plan, saying the money is still coming from taxpayers, and that the town should focus its energies on the Wooding-Caplan property, where the town plans to create a 100-space temporary lot this fall.

Cervoni said the state money comes from Wallingford residents, but that he has no jurisdiction over those taxes.

“Sitting on the Town Council, I have no control over state or federal taxation of us. If there is money out there that will provide benefit to the town without directly impacting the taxpayers — I think we have an obligation to look at that money,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Dave Zajac / Record-Journal

Children play near a deteriorating retaining wall in the parking lot at Holy Trinity School Monday. Wallingford’s Town Council is expected to discuss a new proposal for fixing up the lot. Unlike one voters rejected last November, this one calls for the use of state grant money.

Monday, September 10, 2012

AGENDA - Wallingford Town Council Meeting September 11, 2012 6:30PM @ Town Hall

I have the agenda posted for the regular Wallingford Town Council Meeting over on Wallingford Patch.

As you may already be aware, twice a month as a rule there are regular meetings of the Wallingford Town Council. They are held at Town Hall and open to the public.

An agenda is put together about a week prior to the meeting with topics for discussion that night and I have included the next meeting’s below for your review.

From time to time there are last minute changes / additions to the agenda but for the most part it is static once released.

This is the agenda as presented on Wednesday September 5, 2012 for the Tuesday September 11, 2012 regular Town Council Meeting.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

And the number of parking spaces in Wallingford Center for PUBLIC parking is…

So before I get to the meat and potatoes of my post I want to remind everyone that I have the agenda posted for the regular Wallingford Town Council Meeting over on Wallingford Patch for Tuesday’s Council meeting on September 11, 2012.

Of special note regarding that I want to make sure to call out the following point; the Simpson Court / Private Downtown Parking Lot issue returns to this upcoming Town Council meeting.

You might not know it from this agenda item but the issue of Wallingford paying for the private parking lot at the rear of the businesses at Simpson Court uptown is going to be discussed.

8. Discussion regarding:

Report from the Town Attorney on the Simpson Parking Lot Wall
Possible options for the Town to pursue

The “Possible options for the Town to pursue” regarding the “Report from the Town Attorney on the Simpson Parking Lot Wall” is to apply for a state grant in the amount of $500,000.00 to “improve the Simpson parking area.”

The above link provides you with some additional details and along with my thoughts on that.



With the recap done – on to this post

I decided to talk a walk Sunday morning with my oldest son and count all the public parking spaces available in Wallingford Center.

By definition, a public parking space is one that is made available for the general public to park their car at will (within the limits posted by any signage) on a first come, first served basis.

I will outline what I counted and where as well as what I left out that I could have otherwise justifiably counted as part of the parking scheme for Wallingford Center.

So first – what did I leave out? 

I left out the entire Wooding-Caplan site; even though we are presently rebuilding the area and may be using it for the next five to ten years, there has been no effort to fully commit the area permanently for parking. So due to that I skipped all the planned spaces there – all 100 spaces

I also left out the first block of every street off of Center between Route 5 and Main. It would be very easy to justify that area of parking as being available (as it is) but for the sake of discussion I left those spaces out too. I also left out any available spaces on Prince Street and Church Street.

I also did not count the BUSINESS spaces at the rear of Archie Moore’s because if there is any public parking back I didn’t see the signage so I erred on the side of caution and left it out.

The highlighted map below details the specific areas that I left out of my count.

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All those yellow highlighted areas I left it out of the count – approximately 200 additional spaces for a total of 300 when combined with what I did not count at Wooding-Caplan (that area is shown below).

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Also, beyond the 300 mentioned above I did not count the spaces we currently have use of by way of the year to year agreement on the private property behind the business at Simpson Court (as shown below)

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What I did count

The 43 spaces at the Credit Union on South Main (shown below).

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The 173 spaces at Town Hall and along South Main

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The 69 spaces in Simpson Court and along North Main to Church Street

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The north side of the lot, which has public parking space designation, between North Whittlesey and North Orchard which totaled 30 spaces.

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The small lot behind that, across the street from the synagogue, which has 15 spaces.

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The north sides of the Back of America lot and the lot across Meadow Street (only the areas designated as Public Parking by signage) – total spaces 83.

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I also counted all the spaces available on Hall Avenue down to North Cherry and all the spaces at the rear of the Train Station that are available to the public as Public Parking – 108 in all.

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The last major area of mention is Center Street itself from Route 5 North to Fair Street which encompasses 107 spaces. 

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So what’s the bottom line?

When you add all of these areas of available parking together you have a grand total of 628 spaces for the public to park their cars.

And there is even more space if you include the omitted first block areas of the side streets directly off of Center Street.

In the 27 years of driving my car into Wallingford Center for any reason whatsoever on any random day I have never had to walk more than one block to get to the destination of my choosing and that is because there is plenty of parking if you know where to look and are willing to walk about a block’s distance when necessary.