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Jason Zandri, left, and Mayor William Dickinson shake hands at conclusion of the Mayoral candidate forum moderated by Ann Whitman, left, at Wallingford Town Hall, Tuesday, October 15, 2013.  | Dave Zajac / Record-Journal
Jason Zandri speaks during the Mayoral candidate forum at Wallingford Town Hall, Tuesday, October 15, 2013. | Dave Zajac / Record-Journal Mayor William Dickinson speaks during the Mayoral candidate forum at Wallingford Town Hall, Tuesday, October 15, 2013.  | Dave Zajac / Record-Journal Jason Zandri, left, and Mayor William Dickinson share smiles with moderator Ann Whitman prior to the Mayoral candidate forum at Wallingford Town Hall, Tuesday, October 15, 2013.  | Dave Zajac / Record-Journal

Wallingford mayoral candidates square off in forum

Forum broadcasts

Mayoral forum:

Today: 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 19: 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 20: 8:30 p.m.

Town Council Forum

Today: 8:30 a.m.; 9:45 a.m.; 4:30 p.m. and 5:45 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 19: 6:30 a.m.; 7:45 a.m.; 10:30 p.m. and 11:45 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 20: 6 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.

WALLINGFORD — From technology and downtown parking to keeping the tax rate low, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and Town Councilor Jason Zandri explained their positions on a variety of topics during a mayoral forum late Tuesday.

The forum, sponsored by the Wallingford Community Women and held in the auditorium at Town Hall, had Dickinson, the longtime Republican incumbent, and Zandri, the Democratic challenger, fielding a variety of questions from local reporters and Sheehan High School students.

The candidates were asked to explain their positions on whether more modern techology was needed at Town Hall since many departments lack email and Internet access.

The town has “to go after the lowest hanging fruit first. This is not something you’re going to do in one year’s time,” said Zandri, who agreed with some of the Town Council candidates who said a plan has to first be established. If he’s elected, Zandri said he would invest in technology that would offer “the fastest return on investment.”

He proposed the town slowly incorporate new technology until all systems were updated. From there, the town would look into sustainability, Zandri said. Addressing the costs of implementing more technology in town, Zandri said there was nothing you can do in a town when changing or adding services without raising taxes.

While Dickinson acknowledged that technology in Town Hall is a major issue, he emphasized having a “personal touch” is important.

The candidates also squared off about social media. Zandri, who has a Twitter account and participates in a number of community forums on Facebook, has a strong social media presence, which he said would continue if elected. But the strategy may not pay off, according to Dickinson.

Dickinson explained how other mayors in other communities adopted email addresses and published them for the public. They received so many emails that employees were hired to respond to the questions — removing the aspect of personal touch, Dickinson said. By strictly having an office phone, it’s “very direct and simple,” he said.

Dickinson defended his opposition to The Coalition for a Better Wallingford’s request for a prescription drug drop box at the police department. He acknowledged the coalition’s concerns about the safe disposal of unneeded and expired medication, but said the real question is whether it’s appropriate for a police department to host and maintain a drug drop box. Dickinson said Police Chief Douglas L. Dortenzio “has concerns about what issues (the drop box) will raise for his work force.” He added that he personally has security concerns.

“In today’s world, I do not think you should have anything in the lobby of a police department where basically packages are brought in and there is an inability to know what is in the package,” Dickinson said.

Zandri questioned how much of a burden maintaining the drop box would represent. He cited the current practice of having police officers deliver meeting packets to town councilors’ homes and said, if the police department has time to do that, it could maintain a drug drop box.

The candidates addressed the question of how best to replace the town’s part-time business recruiter Doreen DeSarro, who is retiring, and whether to make the position full time.

Zandri said he would consider making the position full time in the future and emphasized that more needs to be done to make businesses aware of what Wallingford has to offer.

“Whole Foods doesn’t know we have great electric rates unless we go out and proactively tell them,” Zandri said. “They don’t know about our AAA bond rating ... all the highway access and the community involvement. We need to be proactively selling this town.”

Dickinson said a full-time position is a possibility in the future, but that he didn’t see it as a necessity at this point — especially since it’d be “adding overhead.” He outlined the accomplishments of DeSarro and the Economic Development Commission in the past year and a half, saying 60 companies had either expanded or moved to town.

The candidates were asked how they would address the need for improvements and maintainence to the parking lot behind Simpson Court, which the town had been leasing for public parking. Dickinson said, because the Wallingford center area is so important to the community, the town should be willing to invest in improvements and upkeep of the lot so the area remains “vital” and something to be proud of.

Zandri said the lot needs to be “rehabilitated, repaved and redesigned” so people can use it.

“We should engage with the businesses and explain that the town is looking over the next three years to rehabilitate the lot,” Zandri said.

In his closing statement, Zandri encouraged residents to get involved and to vote. Not doing so, impacts the entire community.

“We are getting blown away by neighboring towns,” Zandri said. “They’re going to eat our lunch as they move on and we don’t.”

Dickinson highlighted three initiatives, the purchase of wholesale energy, expanded ambulance service and the goal of a 100 percent graduation rate.

“These are exciting things. Wallingford is ready for takeoff,” he said. (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ

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