OPINION: Step 2 of a plan to get Wallingford taxes low

OPINION: Step 2 of a plan to get Wallingford taxes low

By Jared Liu

When you’re not growing or innovating, taxes go up, because the money for essential services has to come from somewhere. 

That’s why the mayor and Council just passed a budget requesting another $100 on average from every household.

It’s easy to blame the state, but consider two points. First, many businesses are relocating to other towns in Connecticut (not just leaving the state), which is why 30% of Wallingford’s commercial property is now vacant, making us among the highest in the state. Second, even if the state shares some blame, wouldn’t you still expect elected leaders to have a plan?  I would, and I think that’s how many of us were raised in Wallingford.  Growing up, I remember parents had pointed words for any kid who just complained from the sidelines.  Get in the game.

So this is Step 2 of my plan to get taxes low and invest in Wallingford’s future. The first part was: Things that cost nothing, save money, or are revenue positive in year one. Step 1 will give us some financial maneuvering room so that we can invest in economic development.  Only a robust economy can ensure low taxes into the future.

Step 2 of my finance platform is my plan to invest in economic development in these areas:

Staffing & Operations:

■ Build out the economic development team from 1 part-time to 3 full-time staff.  This is the area where we most need to ramp up, because there is much work to be done in terms of attending trade shows, assembling data and marketing materials that showcases Wallingford, support entrepreneurs, and assisting small businesses with budgeting, business plans, supply chain, and scalability to ensure their success.  Cost: $245,000

■ Make small grants to town-focused nonprofits who leverage this with foundation and private funds to engage stakeholders, train volunteers, and create programs in areas such as job training, creating parks, youth leadership, and more.  Cost: $200,000

■Make it easier for businesses to interact with Wallingford by hosting a weekly open session where all relevant department heads are in one meeting. In addition, we will join Economic Development and Planning & Zoning into a combined department so the process from inquiry to application is seamless and timely.  Cost: $0

■ Re-zone the area around the new train station for mixed-use to invigorate the lower downtown shopping district  At the same time, join real estate agents, developers, and other stakeholders to preserve walkable neighborhoods and encourage mid-price range residential for early career individuals and families. Cost: $0

■Set up voicemail, email, and a shared network for all town hall departments  The Town already spends upwards of $500,000 in most years on technology, to say little of $150/month per department phone line and $17,000 for a search engine optimization consultant.  This is like paying AOL a monthly fee for email, because you don’t realize Gmail is free. We will make it easy for business interests to find and communicate with us as at no additional cost.  Cost: $0 Development & Marketing:■  Solve the parking problem. Our parking problem is due to poor signage, egress between lots and shops, and ordinances that are too slow to advance development trends. These are easy fixes that cost very little. Cost: $50,000■ Transform Simpson Court to be an outdoor market on summer weekends, lease the old train station to an investor who converts the space to be an indoor market, and solicit bids for one of the former fire houses to be converted into a children’s museum. Cost: $40,000■ Be purposeful about gateways into town. This includes informative signage along the highway advertising historic points of interest, museums, and other cultural attractions.  This would go hand-in-hand with leveraging Main Street grant programs to invest in the streetscape and beautification of shops, and working with developers to plan combined lots, renovations, tasteful lighting, and greenscaping.  Cost: $20,000■  Market dinner and show packages that capitalize on Oakdale and other arts visitors making a night of coming to town.  Cost: $5,000■ Secure properties that are key to economic development, manage site preparation so construction can begin quickly upon approvals, set clear design standards that streamline permitting, take an active role in marketing and negotiations, and expand HubCap near the new train station and Yalesville Center to offer shared office space for professionals.  Rather than development being a tax burden on residents, this is what we should use the rainy day fund for.  It is equivalent to buying a house.  Instead of keeping your money in a checking account, keep it in real estate and earn equity.  Cost: $0

Total Step One Savings: $11 million

Total Step Two Costs: $560,000

Warren Buffett said, “You only find out who’s swimming naked when the tide goes out.” 

Let’s not wait for the tide to go out. It’s time to lay the groundwork for economic development that returns healthier finances and commercial revenue and allows us to lower the burden on residential taxpayers. That’s how we do things in Wallingford. Along the way, I promise to incorporate new ideas and new voices before a fear of the unknown pauses an entire town’s future.

Jared Liu is a 2019 Wallingford mayoral candidate. Please read my full plans at: www.jaredliu.com


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