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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.

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