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Jon Olson
Glenn Richter

It’s all about taxes

In Wednesday’s paper there was a story about the re-election of Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., and it said that he gave his victory speech while standing in front of an American flag that his brother gave him during his first run for mayor, way back when. So, naturally, the first thing I did was look at the photo to see if I could count the stars, expecting to find maybe 49, at most. Was Queen Liliuokalani still on the throne in Honolulu the first time Mr. Dickinson ran for mayor? I asked myself.

But then it occurred to me that Wallingford’s Republican mayor is probably about my age, roughly speaking, and that I do vaguely remember the day in August of 1959 when the 50-star flag was raised for the first time over YMCA Camp Hazen, in Chester. And, since I can remember the day Hawaii became a state, it dawned on me that Mr. Dickinson hasn’t really been mayor forever; it has only been 30 years since his first election.

To Wallingford Democrats, though, it probably seems like forever. And it wasn’t even close: Mr. Dickinson took 63.7 percent of the vote, according to the figures posted Wednesday by the Secretary of the State’s office. Even so, Jason Zandri ran the most vigorous campaign in years to unseat him, and went over to Gaetano’s that night to graciously congratulate the winner.

As for Mr. Dickinson, he said he plans to work to keep the town’s bond rating strong and its electric and tax rates low.

In Meriden, where tax rates are not so low, the surprise on Election Day was not the margin of the win but the rejection of an incumbent mayor who has been a big name in the city’s affairs for a long time. And that he lost to a political newcomer.

Mayor Michael S. Rohde speculated that his loss to Republican Manny Santos (who was cross-endorsed by We the People) may have involved a general anger with government and incumbents, and objections to Meriden’s tradition of control by the Democrats.

Well, maybe. Or maybe it comes down to three little words: project labor agreements. It was Mayor Rohde, after all, who used his veto to push a divided City Council to keep the PLA for the Platt High School renovation project, despite a cost overrun of close to $7 million. (PLAs direct work to union members while setting goals for local and minority hiring.) Then the city found out that it would have to do some “value engineering” — i.e. downgrading the project, using cheaper materials, etc., on a school that will have to serve the next several generations of Meriden high-school students — to get the cost back in line.

Which is why PLAs are also seen, by many beleaguered taxpayers, as just one more blankity-blank way for the city to spend more money, leading directly to sticker shock every year when they open their tax bills to where it says “PAY THIS AMOUNT.”

Anyway, as far as I can see, the main factor that kept one mayor in office and caused another mayor to be turned out was property tax rates.

But another rate — the voter turnout rate — came as a shock this year, at least to Yrs Trly. In Wallingford, 44.2 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, which is probably quite good for an odd year, a non-presidential, non-congressional, non-General Assembly year. Contrast that to 26.8 percent in Meriden and 33.9 percent in Southington.

In Meriden, just a little more than 1 percent of the eligible voters decided who would be mayor. That’s pretty thin.

Reach Glenn Richter at grichter@record-journal.com.



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