By Stephen Knight
This column continues the analysis of Jared Liu’s suggestions and accusations in his past two offerings. Again, I will say that I admire his willingness to put forth his ideas, but I remain concerned that many comments indicate a scarcity (or sometimes absence) of research concerning the subject of his opinions. As in my previous column, I will first quote Jared and then offer comment. The first three quotes are from his April column. The last three are from his May column.
“Invest pensions into passive, low-fee index funds.” As a matter of fact, 40% of the Town’s pension funds are in the passive investments he suggests, but it would be irresponsible not to diversify the portfolio to minimize the risk, so Wallingford has what’s termed a blended portfolio. Here’s why: in the 2008 market correction, index funds lost around 40% of their value, while Wallingford’s portfolio dropped by 22%.
“… no longer paying $240,000 annually to the investment advisor.” Fact: Wallingford pays its consultant $60,000 per year, not $240,000. Fact: the three town residents who are on our Pension Commission do this for a living in their private careers, in some cases handling portfolios far larger than Wallingford’s.
“Factor state aid into budget projections.” He states this as if the town does not do this at all. Jared, please open the Proposed Annual Budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020. Go to page 1 (General Fund Revenue Summary). There you will see two line items: State Grant School Aid for $21,467,885 and State Grant Aid Other for $2,155,513. This proposed budget was released on April 1, 2019, a full two months before the State’s actual budget was passed. What you see here are the budget projections you call for. As for the complaint that the mayor doesn’t accurately forecast state aid, I would ask this: Did you follow the state budget deliberations this spring? How in the world could you forecast any closer than we already do when you witness that sausage-making process?
“Build out the economic development team from one part-time to three full-time staff.” I’ll start by asking Jared this: Have you had conversation with Economic Development Specialist Tim Ryan about how he would utilize two more people? Did you know that Tim is now considered a full-time employee? Even in government, the concept of Return On Investment applies. You will be amazed at how much Tim accomplishes in his 30-hour work week. What he won’t necessarily be able to tell you are the details of all the projects he is working on because of the confidential nature of economic development. He will be able to tell you of the cooperative teamwork that is forged between EDC and the Town Planner, P & Z, public utilities, tax assessor, health department, BOE, and many other town departments. Add to that the work he does with the state Department of Economic Development and the Connecticut Economic Resource Center. It would be highly unlikely that tripling the staff would triple the results.
“Re-zone the area around the new train station …” Again, I am mystified that Mr. Liu is not familiar with the years of work that has gone into the Transit Oriented District around that new facility or the development of an Incentive Housing Zone in the downtown section of our town center. And has he not followed the many changes to parking and zoning regulations made in the past year to promote town center business development? These are enormous efforts, made after hundreds of hours of study over a period of years, widely publicized in the press — and he isn’t aware of them?
“Solve the parking problem.” Jared complains of “poor signage, egress between lots and shops, and ordinances that are too slow to advance development trends.” I can just imagine what Wallingford Center Executive Director Liz Landow thought when she read that! WCI has been at the forefront of making parking more visible. Has he never noticed the fifty-plus large green and blue signs pointing the way to public parking lots put up almost two years ago? Has he not noticed that every public parking space now has lime green lines so people can differentiate between these lots and private lots? Has he missed the improvements made to the Wooding Caplan parking area?
I reiterate: I think it’s a fine thing that Jared is putting forth his ideas. And his columns show a lot of thought. Unfortunately, they do not necessarily show a lot of investigation into the issues he is addressing. Sure, there are many areas of improvement. There always are, no matter the subject. But the starting point has to be a thorough examination of what is. Or, as the novelist John Steinbeck has written: “… to find where you are going, you must know where you are.”
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.