WALLINGFORD — Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. talked about what’s helping the town grow economically and what’s holding it back in his annual State of the Town address on Thursday.
Dickinson has delivered a State of the Town address annually since he became mayor in 1984.
Thursday’s luncheon event, sponsored by the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce, took place at Masonicare’s Ashlar Village before a crowd of about 135 business and community leaders.
Dickinson discussed the phosphorus removal systems upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant three times in his 45-minute speech.
The first phase of the upgrade project, addressing phosphorus limits, is estimated to cost $55.7 million, and the town may be eligible for about $23 million in state funding. The remaining $32 million would be paid through a low-inter
est state loan.
He said that it would cost the average residential customer $140-$150 more annually, and a large industrial business may see an increase of around $4,000.
Several towns, including Wallingford, are required by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to perform upgrades to their wastewater plants to improve phosphorus removal systems.
Phosphorus is considered an environmental hazard because it causes algae bloom, which depletes oxygen in water bodies and poses a threat to wildlife, according to DEEP.
Dickinson said the new system will reduce emissions from .5 milligrams per liter of phosphorus content to .1 milligrams.
“There is no public safety, no public health issue with phosphorus,” he said. “This is a mandate that gets shoved at us and someone feels good somewhere.”
He also said it should be postponed until the state or federal government can pay for it. The plant has not been renovated since it opened in July 1989, other than adding a nitrogen removal process in 2005.
Most of his speech focused on town economics.
Dickinson cited the annual audit report which showed the town spent $1.5 million in reserves during fiscal year 2017-18. He said this year’s grand list is expected to be up 1.1 percent, which translates to about $1 million more in tax dollars.
“It’s always a difficult task to determine exactly what the fiscal situation will be,” he said, “because of so many uncertainties,” not the least of which is the $3 million tax loss from Bristol-Myers Squibb’s departure.
He gave statistics on the increased number of building permit applications, up 118 last year to 2,532, and the decreased number of foreclosures during the last few years, from 83 in 2016 to 78 in 2017 and 57 last year.
He added that one-third of office space is vacant in town, which he said is a reflection of the state and regional challenges.
Dickinson, known for bringing props or wearing costumes to his public appearances, referred to a rack of T-shirts that featured science jokes and outer space graphics.
“We’re part of a much larger universe than what we like to think at times,” he said, holding a T-shirt featuring the Milky Way.
“Wallingford is great because of the people in it,” he said. “It’s not the government, it’s the people and our attention to business, the caring for one another.”
Democratic town council members didn’t attend the event, and the Democratic Town Committee didn’t return a call for comment.
Democrat Jared Liu, who’s planning to oppose Dickinson in the mayoral race again this fall, said in a statement that “Wallingford is a sleeping bear in a bull economy.”
“While the national economy has been booming,” he said, “we have allowed neighboring towns to take our businesses, failed to invest in necessary infrastructure and constrained ourselves to annual tax increases, only to do the same thing year after year.”
He added that the mayor’s economic decisions have often led not to the best outcomes, but the most acceptable ones.
“Stories and costumes may be nice, but not when they come at the expense of failing to have a real plan or adapt to change,” he said.