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Friday, April 26, 2013

Wallingford’s plan for a senior center walking trail still in budget

As published in the Record Journal on Friday April 26, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD — Town officials are questioning why $1 million was set aside in Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s budget to construct a walking trail connecting the senior center to the Quinnipiac River Linear Trail by Community Lake Park.

The proposed capital project has drawn the ire of some who say the walking trail is a“questionable amenity” for residents during tough economic times. Town Engineer John Thompson said the project will beautify Hall Avenue in a manner similar to work done 12 years ago on Quinnipiac Street. Plantings and period lighting will be added. Directly connected to the streetscape project is a 2,400-foot walking trail from the senior center to the parking lot at Community Lake. Thompson said the project will cost the town just over $2 million. About $1 million has already been raised through previous budget appropriations, with the final million coming from a reimbursement grant recently awarded by the state.

“I didn’t talk to all the seniors, but I can tell you the response made to me by Executive Director Bill Viola is ‘We would like the opportunity to get from the senior center to the Linear Trail,’ ” Thompson said.

Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau, a Republican, said he is “adamantly against” the project. While LeTourneau said the walkway is a “good project for good times,” he doesn’t believe stable economic times have arrived. He’d rather see the money used for streetscape improvements on Quinnipiac Street.

“This is such an unworkable trail behind the senior center, it defies words,” LeTourneau said.

“Coercive terms”

LeTourneau has sided with School Roof Building Committee Chairman and former Town Councilor Mike Brodinsky, who wrote an op-ed piece in the April 21 edition of the Record-Journal criticizing the project.

“This trail is a strange priority,” Brodinsky wrote. “The mayor has elected to pass on additional infrastructure improvements in favor of a new, niche amenity few will use.”

Brodinsky said in his piece that Dickinson merged the Hall Avenue streetscape project with the construction of the trail purposely, forcing the Town Council to fund the trail if they wanted Hall Avenue beautified.

Dickinson “has warned that if the council had any interest in upgrading Hall, it would have to accept the construction of the new trail, because ... well, because he says so,” Brodinsky said.

In late 2011, the Town Council voted 5-4 to allow Thompson to apply for the $1 million grant. By that vote, Brodinsky said, the Town Council accepted a “combo application” including the walking trail and the Hall Avenue project. Therefore, Brodinsky said, town councilors accepted Dickinson’s “coercive terms.”

But Dickinson said the entire project has been a long term priority.

“It’s meant to be an improvement to that entire area,” Dickinson said. “It’s been a focus for a project years in the making. It should be something everyone can enjoy.”

Thompson said Thursday that to win the $1 million grant it was necessary to combine the Hall Avenue and walking trail projects. Both projects have been linked since 2005, when the town did the design work concurrently, Thompson said. The federal grant program, administered through the state, sought projects that included transportation alternatives, such as a walking trail, Thompson said.

“They both fall under the broad transportation blanket,” Thompson said.

Thompson, who said he is friendly with both LeTourneau and Brodinsky, understands that not everyone is as passionate about the project as he is.

“In all honesty, there are people who are not for this,” he said. “I think it’s going to be one of the most attractive trails in the area.”

The $1 million grant is a reimbursement, Thompson said, meaning the town must front $1 million through capital funding until the state and federal governments pay out the grant money. Thompson said the process of winning the grant was highly competitive, and he doesn’t want to see the money lost. If the Town Council should decide not to go forward with the project, the grant money would be awarded to another town, he said.

“I understand what they are saying,” Thompson said of the project’s critics. “However, if the town of Wallingford said we don’t want this money, what would happen is my friend (Meriden Public Works Director) Bob Bass would say ‘We’re ready to take it.’ ”

“A huge mistake”

Members of the Quinnipiac River Linear Trail Advisory Committee and advocates of the trail from the senior center, including Dickinson, met Monday to work out a response to Brodinsky’s Sunday op-ed piece. Thompson said Dickinson suggested visible support. Thompson said a petition is being put together, and a band of supporters will be at the May 6 budget hearing that will address the issue. State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, (D)Wallingford, has also submitted an op-ed piece to the Record-Journal countering Brodinsky’s opinion.

“If we don’t use the grant money, someone else on that list will get it,” Mushinsky said Thursday, adding “It would be a huge mistake on the town’s part” to let the grant slip away.

Mushinsky said the $1 million grant “is a major deal to get,” adding that surrounding municipalities such as Meriden would be “happy if we screw this up.” She asserts that the senior center trail has been a part of Wallingford’s Linear Trail plan since designs were first put together in 1999.

Town Council Chairman Bob Parisi, a Republican, said he’s supported the project from its inception, but added that he is “a little concerned about the economy and stress and strain on money” it presents. Still, he said, “You either take the grant money or someone else will.”

Vincent Cervoni, a Republican and vice chairman of the Town Council, said he gets the impression “there are enough members of the public who would look forward to the opportunity” of using the walking trail to justify its existence.

Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat, agreed, although he said he doesn’t like that the town has to front the $1 million for the grant.

“While I wish there was a way to not put money up and wait, we have to,” he said.

The Town Council will vote on the budget on May 14.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Fishbein’s action causes council stir

As published in the Record Journal on Friday April 12, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

Photo by Christopher Zajac courtesy of the Record-Journal

Wallingford Town Councilor Craig Fishbein sits in the back of the Town Hall auditorium during a recent Town Council meeting.


WALLINGFORD - To the dismay of his fellow Republicans, Town Councilor Craig Fishbein refused to take his assigned seat during Wednesday’s Town Council budget hearing, opting instead to attend the meeting as a member of the public.

Fishbein sat by himself in the back row of Robert Earley Auditorium during the public hearing, protesting a decision made by Town Council Chairman Robert Parisi, also a Republican, a night earlier.

“My opposition to the chairman’s dictatorial rule is quite evident,” Fishbein said Thursday.

Fishbein’s opposition arose when Parisi would not allow him to make a comment during the public question and answer portion of Tuesday’s council meeting.

“I can see if the conduct was disruptive,” Fishbein said Thursday. “As a councilor, I was attempting to bring a condition to the attention of a body.”

Fishbein said there is no rule against councilors speaking during the public comment portion of meetings. In the past few meetings, Fishbein said, he has asked Parisi for permission to make comments during that part of the meeting and “got his graces to speak.”

On Tuesday, Fishbein said he did not approach Parisi before the meeting to ask him permission to speak, but during the public comment period he asked Republican Vice Chairman Vincent Cervoni to pass along his request to Parisi. Fishbein said he wanted to express his displeasure that booklets outlining the mayor’s budget were only made available on Tuesday, a day before the public hearing.

“That is not good government,” said Fishbein, adding that it gave the public only one day to examine the 92-page document and formulate questions. Wednesday’s public hearing was the only opportunity for residents to question the budget.

Parisi told Fishbein Tuesday night that he is an elected official and has no place speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I thought I told him (Tuesday) that I don’t care where he sits; he’s an elected official of this town, and as such he’s a town councilor,” Parisi said Thursday. “You might as well say he was absent (Wednesday) because he didn’t take part as he was supposed to and as all his colleagues did.”

Parisi has more than 20 years of experience as a town councilor, and several terms as chairman. He said he’s “never had a problem with councilors wanting to speak.”

“Most know when they’re supposed to speak and where,” he said. “If (Fishbein) has a problem with rules or precedent, I can’t help him. I take a lot of pride in my meetings. I’m not going to change. I’m not going to have people running roughshod, debating when it’s not time to debate.”

“I’m not going to be censored,” Fishbein responded Thursday. “I see the chairman employing rules only when he wants to.”

Parisi said he regretted departing from his usual approach by allowing councilors to speak during the public comment portion of meetings during the last few months.

“That’s my fault,” he said. “I broke precedent. When I was on the council and others were chairman, I didn’t speak.”

Parisi said that it’s an “unwritten rule” of the Town Council that councilors aren’t to speak during the public comment period of meetings. From now on, Parisi said, councilors won’t be allowed to comment during the public question-and-answer period whatsoever.

As for Wednesday’s meeting, Fishbein said he disagreed with Parisi’s assertion that he was “absent.”

“The duty of a councilor is to be in attendance and hear from the public,” Fishbein said. “Certainly I was in attendance and heard from the public.”

Cervoni said Thursday that he didn’t think Fishbein’s actions were appropriate. “I think there was a more constructive way to deal with his displeasure of Chairman Parisi,” he said. “I think historically the public question-and answer period is for the benefit of the public. They have a much more limited ability to get issues on the council agenda.”

If a councilor is to make a brief statement, it’s courtesy to tell the chairman before the council meeting, Cervoni said. As for Parisi’s decision to disallow Fishbein from speaking during the public comment period, Cervoni said “the chairman exercised his discretion.”

“I felt that as an elected official (Fishbein) should have been at the council bench,” Republican Town Councilor John Letourneau said Thursday. “He should have been with the rest of the councilors at the table. It’s our duty to be here, not in the audience.”

LeTourneau said, “It’s upsetting having a councilor stray from his duties.”

Town Councilor Tom Laffin, a Republican, said that for Fishbein to sit out the meeting while fellow Councilor John Sullivan is “apologizing profusely for missing meetings with cancer” is insulting.

I don’t have time for the games,” Laffin said. “I think it’s insulting to the public but it’s insulting to the rest of us up there.”

Sullivan, a Democrat, began a leave of absence after Tuesday’s meeting to undergo cancer treatment.

In response, Fishbein said his fellow councilors “can’t think for themselves.”

Parisi said he’s not sure whether disciplinary action against Fishbein is “appropriate, necessary or constructive.”

“My opinion and my feeling is that the public will discipline councilors when in fact they don’t uphold their duty,” Parisi said.

While Cervoni said he didn’t agree with Fishbein’s actions, he did agree with his fellow councilor on the availability of budget booklets, and said “it’s probably more beneficial to the public to have these books available in advance of the hearing.”

In the future, Cervoni said, he will look at “padding the time” between the release of the book and the public hearing.

On Wednesday night, a resident complained that the booklets weren’t available in time. Comptroller Jim Bowes said that the booklets were supposed to be in from the printer on Friday, but the company the town contracts with ran into an unexpected delay. Bowes said the company has been reliable for the last six years.

Looking back, Parisi said he should have scheduled the public hearing at a later date to give residents more time to inspect the budget, but he was “rushing to get it in.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dickinson budget attracts discussion

As published in the Record Journal on Thursday April 11, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD - The Town Council held a public hearing Wednesday night on Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s proposed budget.

The public hearing gave residents their only chance to publicly question town employees and officials on Dickinson’s proposed $147.94 million budget for 2013-14, which represents a 1.94 percent, or $2.81 million, increase over the current budget. The council offered no opinion on the budget during the hearing, instead withholding questions for budget workshops that are held with each town department over the next month.

Only four residents asked questions during the hearing, with most of the questions asked by Bob Gross. Of the 46 entities that were budgeted for and available for comment on Wednesday evening, questions were only asked of 12.

One of the more contentious topics of discussion came about when the government access TV budget was opened for discussion. Gross asked about putting town meetings online.

“Why isn’t this being accomplished?” he said.

“It’s not being done because it hasn’t been approved to be done,” Dickinson responded. “We’re not doing it. It means more cost, and we’re not doing it.”

Dickinson said that as long as the state requires the town to provide DVDs upon request, meeting videos won’t be put online. Dickinson also argued that more people can be reached through television anyway.

Gross responded that it being 2013, “the Internet would be the easiest way to reach most people.”

“You are wrong,” Dickinson said. “Most people have televisions. There are large portions that are not going to be on the Internet, but most own televisions.”

Scott Hanley, manager of the government access station, said he estimates it costs about $20 in staff time to make a DVD for one resident.

During discussion of the mayor’s portion of the budget, Gross said that he hopes the Town Council will raise the mayor’s salary.

Dickinson, mayor since 1984, makes just over $73,000 and hasn’t taken a pay increase in more than a decade.

“Whoever the mayor is deserves a salary greater than $73,000,” Gross said.

Dickinson wouldn’t comment Wednesday.

Also discussed were the Police Department, Board of Education, Program Planning and Planning and Zoning.

Town Planner Kacie Costello, asked if the town is moving forward with refurbishing lower downtown, said that “it’s hard to say at this time” whether the Incentive Housing Zone will be approved. The IHZ is a state program that creates an overlay zone, in this case over several areas in downtown Wallingford, that includes zoning restrictions written to attract developers.

Even if the IHZ isn’t approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, Costello said she’s going to try to encourage development downtown.

The mayor’s proposed budget will next be discussed tonight, with the focus on the Board of Education, in a special council meeting at Town Hall. The meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium, will give town councilors a chance to look closely at and question the Board of Education’s budget. Members of the public will not be allowed to ask questions at this meeting.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

PUBLIC HEARING on the 2013-2014 BUDGET


Special Town Council Meeting


APRIL 10, 2013 - 6:30 P.M.

Town Council Chambers


on the

FY 2013 – 2014 BUDGET


1. Pledge of Allegiance

2. Roll Call


Ambulance/EMS Transport Fund
Animal Control

Board of Assessment Appeals
Board of Education
Board of Ethics
Board of Selectmen
Building Department

Capital Appropriations Reserve
Capital and Non-Recurring
Capital and Non-Recurring Fund
Civil Preparedness
Conservation Commission
Contingency Account

Debt Services

Economic Development Commission
Employee Insurance and Other Benefits
Engineering Department

Finance Department
Fire Department
Fire Marshal

Government TV

Health Department

Inland Wetlands
Insurance-Property & Casualty

Law Department


Parks and Recreation
Pension Fund
Personnel, Pensions, & Risk Management
Planning & Zoning
Police Department
Probate Court
Program Planning
Public Utilities Commission
Public Works Department

Registrars of Voters

Six-Year Capital
Social Services Contributions

Town Council
Town Clerk

Utilities –Electric, Water & Sewer Divisions

Veterans Service Center

Youth & Social Services Bureau

Zoning Board of Appeals

Monday, April 8, 2013

Snow-day pay: The issue isn’t melting away

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday April 7, 2013

By Jesse Buchanan
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2230
Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

Although it’s rare for Town Hall to close due to bad weather, the question of paying workers under those circumstances has become a contentious issue between Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and town employee union leaders.

Dickinson said the town is under no obligation to pay workers for Feb. 11, the day Town Hall was closed due to a blizzard. To get paid, employees must use a vacation day, Dickinson said in a Feb. 14 memo.

Dickinson said he can remember closing Town Hall one other time, but couldn’t recall the year. He has been mayor for almost 30 years.

Despite the infrequency, Dickinson said he’s trying to establish a policy.

“These things do arise,” he said. “You can’t look at it as a one-time expense. It becomes a potential ongoing issue.

Town Personnel Director Terence Sullivan said he can only remember a handful of times that Town Hall has closed due to weather in the last two decades.

“It’s so infrequent you can probably count on one hand,” he said. “It’s a very infrequent occurrence.”

Based on adding the salary and overtime costs of Town Hall departments in the 2011-12 fiscal year budget, Wallingford pays more than $22,000 per day in employee compensation. The yearly salary costs were divided by the 248 workdays to estimate daily employee pay.

The salary figure didn’t include police, fire, public works and utilities, since those departments operate in all weather.

Departments at both Town Hall and 6 Fairfield Boulevard were included in the daily salary estimate.

Dickinson didn’t have an estimate of how much a day’s pay would cost Town Hall.

Jason Zandri, a Town Council Democrat running for mayor, said it’s unfair to expect town employees to use a vacation day when Dickinson closes Town Hall. Paying employees who stay home in a storm isn’t a common occurrence, Zandri said Refusing to pay employees for a snow day was “completely in character” for Dickinson, according to Zandri. He said the mayor is looking to save money by not paying employees, but risking thousands of dollars in a legal battle that the town will likely lose.

“You get to 20 hours of legal fees and you’re already halfway there,” Zandri said.

Town leaders shouldn’t be intimidated by unions threatening arbitration, according to Republican Councilor Craig Fishbein.

“Merely to run away and cower in the corner because of the arbitration process is, in my opinion, not the appropriate way to deal with these issues,” Fishbein said.

Fear of losing arbitration and incurring legal fees is often used as a reason by the council to avoid conflict with the unions, he said.

Chuck Ballard, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Co. 4, Local 1183, said the union has filed for an arbitration hearing date with the state labor board. He declined to comment on the issue and its effects on employees.

“This is definitely an ongoing process,” he said.

No date has been set for arbitration. “Typically these take awhile,” Ballard said. “If it takes less than a year, I’d be surprised.”

Wallingford’s Non-competitive edge

Editorial as published in the Record Journal Monday April 8, 2013


“I won’t stop saying ‘no’ until I’m the lowest-paid employee in the town.”

Thus quips editorial cartoonist Kevin Markowski in his caption atop this page vis-à-vis Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s decision to (yet again) forgo a salary increase. It’s a practice perpetuated since at least 2002, whereby he’s kept a steady salary of $73,140.

Markowski’s tongue-in cheek humor reflects a concern among some Wallingford residents and town officials that perpetuating a manifestly low chief executive’s salary year after year produces something of a double-edged sword: On the one hand, it gleams when sparkling in the sunlight of Dickinson’s disciplined determination to set, by way of personal example, restraints on municipal spending during what he refers to as “bad times.”

On the other metaphorical hand, it presents a blunted, non-cutting competitive edge among mayoral/manager peers in other Connecticut towns and cities. In our April 4 news story, for examples, we reported that, as of 2011, the following annual salaries were paid: Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback, $149,000; Meriden City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior, $139,000; Michael Milone, Cheshire Town Manager, $131,350.

Though some question Dickinson’s non-progressive salary in relation to other Wallingford top municipal staff (including, say, that of the Superintendent of Schools), the overarching consideration extends to a time when this mayor is no longer office-holder, whether by his choice or future election results. To attract top quality candidates, Wallingford will necessarily have to up the ante by around $60,000 annually, give or take.

When that fullness of time naturally occurs, one hopes that the new chief executive will not be “compared” in a pejorative light of requisite salary differentials but on the merits of his or her leadership abilities.

For his part, Mayor Dickinson deserves a nod for reserve through self-denial. Taxpayers should bear in mind, however, that the above-mentioned two-edged sword will inevitably be held to the standard of competitive daylight.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Wallingford - Mayor’s proposed budget cuts are smallest in years

As published in the Record Journal on Thursday April 4, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD – Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. trimmed just more than $1.5 million from general government budget requests for fiscal year 2013-14 — the lowest amount he has cut in the last four years.

Last week, Dickinson proposed a $147.94 million budget for 2013-14, which represents a 1.94 percent, or $2.81 million, increase over the current budget. Government departments other than education and utilities requested $57,918,538, which Dickinson cut to $56,407,204. Even with that reduction, the figure is an $856,571, or 1.54 percent, increase over the current year.

The reduction is the lowest since 2009, when Dickinson reduced general government requests in his budget proposal by $953,900. Dickinson, a Republican, said “two things” played a large role in the lessened reductions.

“Certainly departments aren’t requesting as much,” Dickinson said, and “our ability to add so many items back in through the use of reserves” offset some reductions. Since Dickinson became mayor in 1984, he said, reserve funding has regularly been used to supplement the budget.

In Dickinson’s latest proposed budget, he recommended that certain capital expenditures that were reduced be funded using the fiscal year 2012-13 operating surplus. He also suggested that money distributed by the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority be used to fund a shift command vehicle and generator requested for the Fire Department, along with another generator for Public Works.

Comptroller James Bowes said that there is less than $200,000 left in the CRRA fund. The town received a payment of $7.2 million from

CRRA in 2009, a surplus distribution for its participation in a long-term trash disposal agreement. With about $4.3 million in reserve funding earmarked for the current budget, the town still has a healthy balance of $12 million in reserve cash, Bowes said, a balance he’d like to maintain in order to receive a solid credit rating.

There is concern from town councilors over the mayor’s dependency on reserve cash when forming a budget.

“We’ve been burning up these savings,” said Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat and a candidate in the upcoming mayoral race. “We’re going to hit a situation there where all these monies will be gone.”

Without extensive reserves, Zandri said, the town will have to raise taxes or borrow money to balance the budget.

Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democrat, characterized Dickinson’s proposed budget as “same old, same old.”

“To me, the budget is a facade,” he said. “The mayor over budgets every year ... it’s like an open checkbook.”

Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, a Republican, said “Reserve funding is always a concern,” but added, “It seems every year we’re replenishing that” so that reserve cash “stays somewhat steady.”

Fishbein was happy with the amount of the tax increase, which will cost the average residential property owner only an extra $46 a year, although he’s still “not satisfied.” He said he’d like to see more things trimmed from the budget.

The Town Council makes the final call on the budget.

The small tax increase stands out to Democratic Town Councilor John Sullivan, but “while this all sounds great, I’m concerned about the 2014-15 budget,” he said.

Satisfied with the budget is Republican Town Councilor John LeTourneau, who said he didn’t see anything “earthshattering.”

“I don’t foresee any big issues with departments,” he said.

Vincent Cervoni, Republican vice chairman of the Town Council, said he was impressed with the mayor’s budget. Cervoni said “The use of reserve funds is a good way to use those funds and minimize the tax increase that must take place.”

Dickinson cut the current year’s general government budget by $1.6 million, following a nearly $6 million reduction in 2011-12 and $1.8 million cut in 2010-11.

Views differ on government-access tech in Wallingford

As published in the Record Journal on Friday April 5, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224


Scott Hanley, manager of the town’s Government Access TV station, said there is frustration among some residents because town meetings are not available online.

Hanley said it would be easier to post video of meetings online rather than producing a disc version for every resident who requests a copy.

In 2009, Hanley posted several Town Council meetings on a blog website — — that was created specifically for residents who couldn’t attend meetings or watch recordings played on WGTV. After posting town meeting videos from July 2008 until April 2009, Donald Roe, the town’s program planner and grant coordinator, who oversees Hanley’s department, decided the videos should be discontinued.

Roe, along with Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., said that posting videos online was no longer feasible with Hanley’s schedule. At the time Hanley was, and still is, the only full-time employee of the station, which is a town department. In 2009 the town upgraded to a remote-controlled system of four cameras in Robert Earley Auditorium at Town Hall, and Roe said Hanley had plenty on his plate adjusting to the new system.

Almost four years later, Hanley still isn’t allowed to post town meeting videos online, a directive that he said leads to “frustration” for himself and some members of the community.

“It would be easier to put it online than put it on a DVD,” Hanley said. “But we can’t do it. The mayor looks at it like duplication.”

Dickinson said this is true, and that it would add to the town’s expenses if Hanley took time out of his schedule to post videos online if DVD copies are already provided on request. Hanley said the state requires municipalities to make DVD copies available at no cost except for the price of a disk, which he said is 50 cents.

“If the DVD requirement goes away, (Dickinson) said he’d be willing to put it on the Internet,” Hanley said.

“Maybe it will change in the future,” said Dickinson, adding that for now he “doesn’t see it as necessary.”

In Dickinson’s point of view, it’s wasteful to assimilate to every technological upgrade. He said that just because videos can be posted online doesn’t mean it should be done.

“Trying to do everything is counterproductive,” he said. Dickinson said he believes more people watch television, so it’s easier to watch meetings on WGTV “than other means.”

Roe said that much of the reasoning behind keeping town meetings unavailable online “comes down to allocation of resources and the ability to have staff time available to do things.

“I don’t think, at least from my perspective, we have the time to take on a lot of additional activities,” he said. Roe said there are three part-time employees in the WGTV department, but most of their time is taken up working town meetings.

Because it’s a tax-supported entity, “careful decisions have to be made,” Roe said, and there are only so many resources the department has, so putting video online is not apriority.

Hanley said the department hasn’t budgeted for putting video online this year.

“I don’t believe the cost would be that significant,” he said.

Town Councilor Jason Zandri, who is running for mayor this year, said that Dickinson does not want videos of town meetings online because he is “not for open government.”

“They are not for being transparent,” Zandri said.

If meeting videos were online, someone interested in viewing a certain aspect of a Town Council meeting could quickly pull it up online and skip to the exact moment they were looking for, Zandri said. Instead, residents must request a DVD copy and go to Town Hall and pick it up.

Zandri disagrees with Dickinson’s view that not all technology should be adopted.

“If that’s what you said 100 years ago, we wouldn’t have an electric plant,” he said.

Roe said of Hanley that “there’s no technology he doesn’t want to embrace.”

“I know it gets frustrating to him,” said Roe, who added that just because the town hasn’t embraced online video doesn’t mean technology is being ignored. An example, he said, is the remote-controlled camera system at Town Hall.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

No pay raise for mayor in Dickinson’s new budget

As published in the Record Journal on Thursday April 4, 2013

Mayor’s aide to earn more in 2013-14 spending plan

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD - Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. will once again forgo a salary increase and some town councilors are concerned his decision could hurt the town in the long run.

In Dickinson’s proposed $147.94 million budget for the next fiscal year, his salary will remain at the figure he’s taken home since at least 2002 — $73,140. Dickinson, a Republican, has yet to confirm whether he will seek re-election this year.

“I think these are bad times,” Dickinson said, adding that if elected officials take raises, it adds to the argument of bargaining units seeking pay increases. “As a general rule, the private sector has had declining raises while the government is increasing wages. That can be troublesome.”

According to the Town Charter, compensation cannot be changed during the term of the incumbent mayor. Since Dickinson’s term ends after this year, the salary for the next term can be set now.

Democratic Town Councilor Jason Zandri, who is running for mayor, pointed out that under Dickinson’s proposed budget, the mayor’s annual salary will be $300 less than that of Joan Stave, the administrative aide to the mayor. Zandri said the information is in a budget proposal booklet that is not yet available to the public.

Dickinson, when asked if Stave would earn more than him in the next year, said “it’s possible.” He doesn’t see the pay difference as a problem.

“She does excellent work for the town,” Dickinson said, joking that Stave bosses him around most of the time anyway so the pay difference is appropriate.

“She’s a very capable person,” he said. “She’d be embarrassed about this. I certainly feel for her, and don’t want her to be the focus” in any budget discussion.

Town Councilor John LeTourneau, a Republican, said he’s baffled by the fact that the mayor’s aide may make more than the mayor.

“That’s embarrassing,” he said.

Letourneau added that Dickinson doesn’t seek a pay increase because “he feels that’s what the job is worth.” He’s not sure that in the future “more money means a better quality person.”

Zandri said that Dickinson, by not taking any pay increase, is “freezing the pay of the position” and making it unattractive to others.

Town Council Vice Chairman Vincent Cervoni, a Republican, said that Stave’s earning more than Dickinson “borders on inappropriate,” but not because Stave doesn’t deserve to earn what she does. He said the mayor needs to earn more so the town can “allow for some succession planning.” Cervoni said that if the mayor ever stepped down, the town needs to be able to “attract someone of similar caliber” with compensation on par with other municipal leaders in the area. As of 2011, Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback was paid $149,000 per year; Meriden City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior was paid $139,000 annually; and Michael Milone, Cheshire’s town manager, earned $131,350 per year.

“I would think it’s absolutely unusual” that the mayor’s aide makes more than the mayor, said Quinnipiac University Professor David Cadden, who has worked in the department for entrepreneurship and strategy for 30 years. Cadden said that the ongoing mindset in business is that pay increases and higher salaries at top positions are necessary.

“You need salaries like that in order to attract the best and the brightest,” he said.

That mindset has not necessarily been proven, Cadden said, but a lower than average salary “might be an impediment” to attract other candidates. As the chief executive of Wallingford, just as in any business, Cadden said “a hierarchy must be maintained atoll costs,” and that Dickinson’s making less than his aide destroys that hierarchy.

When Dickinson leaves office, Cervoni said, the town will have to form a plan to incrementally increase the salary of the chief executive.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wallingford water use drops, but rates will rise — and so will sewer bills

As published in the Record Journal on Wednesday April 3, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD – Maintenance costs and reduced water consumption by residents have persuaded the Public Utilities Commission to unanimously approve water and sewer rate increases.

The new rates, effective June 1, will impact the average residential customer’s combined water and sewer bill by adding $2.33 monthly, said Bob Beaumont, commission chairman. The average resident — defined as having 5/8-inch water pipe and a yearly consumption of 8,800 cubic feet — will pay an additional $1.61 per month for water and 72 cents for sewer service.

Water rates have increased almost yearly in Wallingford, due almost entirely to a “general trend to declining consumption” of water, said Roger Dann, general manager of the town’s Water and Sewer divisions.

Dann said water conservation devices in homes are more common, in part because of his own department’s effectiveness in getting the message out to residents to reduce consumption. Dann called the situation a “double-edged sword.”

“As crazy as it seems, we encourage people to use less of our product,” said commission member David Gessert.

As labor and material costs increase and water usage declines, Dann said, the trend of rising rates will likely continue. Even if water usage increases, Dann said, “we have largely fixed costs;” therefore,“few expenses go down if we sell more water.”

Sewer rates had been slated for a larger increase, but the rate agreed upon on Tuesday night was “a third of what it was projected to be prior to tonight,” Beaumont said.

Four years ago, Dann said, a sewer rate increase was adopted and was supposed to go into effect this June, but the increase was cut Tuesday night. The increase, initially 39 cents per hundred cubic feet of consumption, was lowered to 13 cents.

Consumption is an issue for both the Sewer and Water divisions.

“The billable consumption in sewer, like water, has trended down for the same reasons,” Dann said.

The maintenance of mains, pumps and the aging sewage treatment plant also come as a cost to the town. As water and sewage treatment facilities get older, Dann said, “they require generally more maintenance.”

“We have to continue to make investments in sewer infrastructure,” Dann said.

Regulatory issues, such as phosphorous removal, also cost the town money.

A public hearing was held before the passage of increased water and sewer rates. Two residents attended the meeting, but did not object to the increases.

“These are rather conservative increases,” Gessert said.“They’re not outlandish.”