Wallingford Town Council, mayoral candidates discuss budget, town development



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WALLINGFORD — The future of Community Pool, the municipal budget process and the prospect of data center development in town were among the topics mayoral and Town Council candidates discussed during a forum Thursday night sponsored by Wallingford Community Women.

Budget

Several council candidates weighed in on two consecutive mayoral budget vetoes and the council’s decision to override those vetoes.

“I am in support of the council’s most recent $177 million budget, that they overrode the mayor, to keep taxes low and keep the mill rate at 28.52,” Democratic challenger Sam Carmody said. “I would be in favor of looking at any cost saving measures that could reduce the budget and maintain a low tax rate.” 

First-term incumbent Christina Tatta, a Republican, said in the budgets she has worked on, the town has been able to keep taxes low by looking closely at what can be cut and said she plans to continue this if re-elected. 

Candidates also shared ideas for utilizing savings and additional revenue the town may receive through a host agreement with a data center developer to reinvest in the community. 

Republican incumbent Joe Marrone said a “windfall” like revenue from the host agreement should be directed to the stalled Community Pool project, as well as roads and sidewalks and reducing taxes. 

Mayor William Dickinson Jr. said extra revenue could reduce mill rates, restore reserves and go to capital projects, but that it would be a “methodical and slow” process to decide. Democratic mayoral challenger Riley O’Connell said it is time to reinvest in the community and progress quickly, as opposed to waiting. 

Amazon facility

In September, Wallingford’s Planning and Zoning Commission denied a permit request to build an Amazon distribution facility on Research Parkway. 

When Democratic council challenger Bruce Conroy was asked what he thinks is the best use for the former Bristol Myers Squibb property, he said it was Amazon. 

“Should the traffic be a problem at the facility, we can most likely apply for grants...” Conroy said.

“I feel that we should’ve approved it . . . What goes there next? Maybe nothing for a long time.” 

But both mayoral candidates agreed that Amazon wasn’t the best fit for the site. Dickinson said he had concerns about the traffic Amazon would generate and the facility being used 24/7, as opposed to a five-day-a-week, 9-5 schedule as in the past.

O’Connell said he was also concerned with traffic versus what he said was the limited economic value an Amazon distribution facility would bring to the community, compared to other uses of the property. But he also doesn’t want the site to remain vacant, he said.

“We need to market the space,” O’Connell said.

“The problem is, we are not doing a great job with marketing in general....It isn’t free to do online marketing but these are things that pay for themselves when done properly.” 

Data center pact

Candidates weighed in on the town’s recent agreement with a private data center developer interested in locating a number of facilities in town.

Democratic challenger Alexa Tomassi said while she does think that the data centers will be useful financially for the town, she wants to respect the neighbors’ noise concerns. 

“I think the money that we will earn from having the data centers here is worth this project moving forward,” she said. “That is money that we can reinvest in the town for other projects that need to get done.” 

After six hours of discussion at a June meeting, the Town Council approved a host agreement with Gotspace Data Partners by a 5-4 vote. Because the centers are tax exempt by state statute, the town would receive a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes for upwards of $1.5 million per building.

But Republican incumbent Craig Fishbein said he was concerned at how quickly the developer wanted to move with the request, which contributed to why he ultimately voted against it.

Rushing the approval benefited the company, not the town, he said.

The process since has helped add protections, he said, but hasn’t changed his view of how the agreement was reached.

“I have watched what is going on in Planning and Zoning,” he said. “I’ve been very happy with certain protections they have put into place as far as the setback, greenery...I think we’re in a better place. I’m a little more comfortable, (but) I still wouldn’t vote for it.”

Climate change

Republican Autumn Allinson, a current Board of Education member running for council, had ideas on how the town could address climate change issues. 

“The opportunity to possibly partner with businesses that rent bicycles to ride around town might be a cool thing,” Allinson said. “Secondly, I would say I am all for car charging stations being around town.”

Democratic incumbent Vincent Testa cited the global challenge involved.

“Frankly it does fall under the category of things that are really national, world affair type issues, state, more so than local,” Testa said. “So what could we really do at the local level?” 

Because Wallingford has its own electric division, Testa said the town should make more attempts to get involved in renewable energy and encourage recycling. 

In response to a separate question about the Plan of Conservation and Development, incumbent council Chairman Vincent Cervoni, a Republican, cited his support for open space purchases and the purchase and renovation of the former 3M building on Barnes Road for a new police department as examples of ways he’s helped implement the plan as leader of the council.

Community Pool

While Dickinson remained firm in his stance of not funding renovations to Community Pool during the pandemic, O’Connell and Town Council candidates said it’s time to move forward with the project. 

As for increased costs related to the delay, Dickinson said the town would have to take another look at cost after the pandemic.

“We need to have the pandemic behind us,” Dickinson said. “If it does return, that’s the last place we would encourage people to congregate without masks. Then we will deal with rebidding and determine what is affordable or not.” 

But O’Connell said his opponent did not support investments needed to attract and retain young families in the community and that the pool project would never be built under the current administration.

Democratic council candidate Nicole Barillaro said she fully supports investing in the pool. 

“I think it’s an invaluable resource,” she said. “That not only provides something for our families and kids, elderly, all ages can use this. There are houses in the area that are not zoned for pools. It’s necessary.” 

Marrone said one of the critical functions of the government is to maintain parks and the community pool has been neglected by the town. 

“I think if the cost is the issue, there are things to try to mitigate the cost,” he said. “But, no matter when you go to bid on the project, it’s just going to get more expensive over time. . . So I think you either bite the bullet and pay to get the project done the way you want it or change the plan.”

Thursday’s forum was moderated by Jeanne McFarland. Questions were posed by Record-Journal reporters Lauren Takores and Karla Santos.

Republican incumbent Vice Chairman Tom Laffin and Democratic incumbent Gina Morgenstein did not attend the forum due to conflicts, but provided statements. 

The forum can be viewed in its entirety on the Wallingford Government Media YouTube channel in three segments by searching 2021 Wallingford candidates forum.

fwilliams@record-journal.com203-317-2373Twitter: @faith_williams2



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