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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.