OPINION: What’s next for former BMS site in Wallingford?

OPINION: What’s next for former BMS site in Wallingford?

There are times when topics that are covered in this column need updating or, at the very least, further comment. Things at the state and local level are moving quickly; and, therefore, I would like to take the liberty of discussing two of them further, given the unfolding of recent developments. 

Calare Properties’ development of the Bristol-Myers Squibb property: I will confess surprise that Wallingford’s Planning & Zoning Commission so overwhelmingly rejected the proposal to build two huge warehouses on the former BMS property. It seemed to me that the developer had acceded to every demand the Town of Wallingford had made to improve the proposal and to meet the concerns of the opponents to the project.  

The vote went as it did because of the effectiveness of the neighborhood group challenging the endeavor.  While I still have questions about the accuracy of some of the statistics they quoted and the conclusions they drew, I am in admiration of the preparation, persistence, organization, and emotion they displayed.  It would seem that they covered every base, were sophisticated in their command of the media that was available to them and, most importantly, kept their emotions in check and their comments aimed at the subject at hand and not at the commissioners and town staff charged with making this difficult decision. Our representatives in Washington could learn lessons from them.

Having said all that, I am concerned about what kind of development would pass muster with the folks that do live nearby. The project, as envisioned, would have netted approximately $2 million in local tax revenue. BMS was by far our largest taxpayer, and when that building disappears, with it goes all of the tax revenue it generated. 

Even a cursory analysis of proposals emanating from the newly installed State of Connecticut governor or legislative leadership leads to the conclusion that their plans are to reduce municipal aid, regardless of the blather you hear to the contrary. We must find some way to replace this lost revenue, and there are few places in town capable of producing it.  

State Education Regionalization: I have heard from both our Democrat state representatives, directly or indirectly, that they will be representing Wallingford’s interests in this matter. For now, regionalization, as envisioned by State Senator Looney from New Haven, is dead. But a newspaper article I read about the New Haven school system certainly 1) spells out why he is pushing this unpopular issue and 2) underscores why towns should have absolutely no interest in moving in his direction. It truly is all about the money.

Last Monday evening, New Haven School Superintendent Carol Birks, in introducing her new Chief Operating Officer, also discussed her preliminary budget. I do not know how you can responsibly do this, but she has produced a budget that ends up with — are you ready? — a $30.7 million deficit, even after assuming that the state will increase its subsidy to New Haven by $10.3 million.

If you want to know how such a dismal financial outcome is possible, consider this: the New Haven school district has a new Chief Operating Officer because the old one left his job for Waterbury. But — get this — the guy leaving his job in New Haven will be getting a payout of more than $100,000. He leaves his job before his contract is up, yet the City of New Haven will happily give him a six-figure golden handshake. You can’t make this stuff up! That’s the kind of nest-feathering nonsense that creates such deficits.  And everybody in that government just shrugs their shoulders and says, “Oh, well.”

Is it any wonder that the towns that would be subject to this radical regionalization want nothing to do with it? It’s bad enough that they lose control of how their kids are educated, but they also end up subsidizing these shenanigans with tax dollars that could have been spent at home.

These two issues I just discussed are related. The State of Connecticut is going to increasingly shift the tax burden to the people that live outside the state’s urban areas. Given the political power of our state’s cities, it is inevitable. Wallingford must prepare for this.

Since the state has not yet finagled a way to get their hands on our local real estate property taxes, it behooves us to protect ourselves and do all we can to attract businesses to Wallingford to help us keep that revenue source stable or, if possible, growing. So it is imperative that we keep the door open to industrial development in the few suitable locations remaining for such use. 

And all of us living here in Wallingford need to have this understanding. To quote Benjamin Franklin: “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we will all hang separately.”

Steve Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.


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