Wallingford Town Council votes to raise mayor’s salary; cover overtime costs for fireworks show

Wallingford Town Council votes to raise mayor’s salary; cover overtime costs for fireworks show

Record-Journal
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David and Cindy Parent brought their motor home to entertain friends and family at last year's Fourth of July Fireworks display in Wallingford. The Town Council voted Tuesday night to include funding for this year's display in the budget. |Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal

WALLINGFORD — The Town Council voted Tuesday night to add $24,560 to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s proposed budget for 2015-16. The amendments include a raise in the mayor’s salary and a total of $13,700 for various accounts to cover overtime costs for the Fourth of July fireworks show at Sheehan High School.

Dickinson announced his proposed budget for the town in April that totals $155,711,377, representing a 2.24 percent increase over the 2014-15 budget. To fund the proposed budget , the tax rate will have to go from 26.89 mills to 27.46 mills — an increase of 0.57 mills. One mill is equivalent to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed home value.

If the raise in the mayor’s salary and added funds for the fireworks show are approved, the tax rate will increase to 27.47 mills.

While the Town Council voted to make the amendments to Dickinson’s budget, the mayor can still veto them.

Town Council Vice Chairman Tom Laffin’s motion to raise the mayor’s salary to $96,000 passed 7-2. The mayor’s salary is now $85,140, and the $10,860 increase is about 12.7 percent. The last increase approved by the council was $12,000 in 2013. Republican Councilors Craig Fishbein and John LeTourneau voted against the salary increase.

The fireworks show will be held July 11. Jason Zandri, president of the Wallingford Fireworks Fund, appeared before the council Tuesday. The fireworks will cost $16,500, but Zandri has said the group won’t raise the costs to cover overtime for various town departments. He told councilors that he has 20 days to raise $6,000.

“Why should we make the town get involved in something they don’t want to do?” Zandri said. “The support has to come from the council or administration. A vote needs to take place and something definitive needs to happen.”

Democratic Councilor Vincent Testa Jr. made a motion to add $9,000 to the police department’s overtime account; $3,000 to the fire department’s overtime account; $1,000 to the fire marshal’s overtime account; $200 to the parks and recreation budget to purchase portable toilets; and $500 to the public celebrations committee as a social services contribution.

Testa’s motion passed 6-3. Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni, Laffin, and Republican Councilor Robert F. Parisi voted against it.

Testa acknowledged that he was contemplating funding the town’s services for the fireworks show by using the reserve fund, but “I felt there would be some resistance with that.”

During the discussion, Dickinson said the officials have to be cognizant of how the town is spending money. Reflecting on the economy, Dickinson said next year’s budget would be worse than this year’s.

“It’s not just the U.S. This is a worldwide phenomenon,” the mayor said. “If we don’t wake up that things have changed beneath our feet and it’s not going back to the way we used to have them, we’re going to be guilty of leading our community in the wrong direction.”

Fishbein, who voted in favor of the motion, said he had trouble understanding why the town was discussing approving a $13,700 amendment in a $151 million budget.

“It’s been 60 years or so that we’ve been doing this and this town has a history of (hosting) the fireworks; it’s a part of our history,” Fishbein said. “If you ever sat on the hill at Sheehan and watched the massive people driving through Barnes Park and sitting in the Edible Arrangements parking lot ... you’d understand this is the largest, most well-attended event in our town year after year.”

Laffin, however, said he found it difficult to approve an additional $13,700 to the budget when other social organizations, such as the Spanish Community of Wallingford and the emergency shelter, need money.

Republican Councilor Christine Mansfield voted in favor of the motion, but cautioned that it may not be a “sustainable solution moving forward.”

Democratic Councilor John Sullivan also voted in favor of Testa’s motion, adding the fireworks fund’s volunteers “do an incredible job.”

“Sometimes tradition is difficult to support through a budget ... but (the fireworks fund) gets it done somehow, someway,” Sullivan said. “The least we can do is recognize their efforts and move the $13,000.”

The discussion grew contentious when LeTourneau said he believed the town should continue hosting the fireworks to celebrate the country’s birthday. LeTourneau said he believed there aren’t many events where there is “major flag waving.”

Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni said flags wave during the other town events, such as the annual Memorial Day parade. By not having a Fourth of July fireworks show or adding money to fund it, wouldn’t mean Wallingford is “unpatriotic,” Cervoni said — a comment that sparked an immediate response from LeTourneau.

“You want to debate me? Then let’s go; bring it on,” LeTourneau said as he proceeded to defend his stance.

“We’re not going to have a back and forth,” Cervoni said afterward.

“You’re darn right we won’t,” LeTourneau quipped.

evo@record-journal.com (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ


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