By Stephen Knight
Jared Liu’s lengthy column disparaging the Town of Wallingford and its administration for not having totally state-of-the-art technology was interesting. That the municipal government is perhaps overly cautious when it comes to adopting digital technology is an argument that every candidate running against Mayor Dickinson in the last ten elections has used, and it is not totally without merit. I, too, would like to see some interactive applications available to residents. I get that other towns have adopted more technology than is evident in our Town Hall.
Having said that, I must address some of the more flagrant misstatements, exaggerations, and just plain misinformation contained in this diatribe. I suppose in the current political atmosphere we see elsewhere, such unsubstantiated rhetoric is acceptable; but here in Wallingford we have the opportunity to state opposition to the current information by using actual data, by walking into Town Hall and actually inquiring about the facts from the very people that work there.
That is what I did when I challenged Mr. Liu’s previous missives. And as much as I hate to be repetitive, it will again be necessary to counter some of his characterizations with facts. Here are three of his statements, followed by the reality that actually exists:
“I propose we: Put public land & zoning records on line … For commercial interests, this inconvenience is a real expense and may cost us their business.” I recommend that Mr. Liu actually use the available technology and go on the Town’s website. Click on Economic Development. What he will see are 19 different buttons to click that will offer all kinds of economic development info, including one that says Commercial Properties For Sale or Lease; including one that says GIS for Commercial/Industrial Properties; including one that says Contact the Economic Development Commission. As for zoning records, P&Z meeting minutes and zoning regulations are on the Town website. Has Jared Liu never availed himself of this information?
“In towns that take economic development seriously, one can get a response within 24-48 hours of sending a message. In Wallingford, the Town cannot even act on applications within 3 months.” Has the Democratic candidate for Mayor ever, ever spoken with Tim Ryan, the Economic Development Specialist? Yet he outright insults the guy by stating that the town doesn’t take economic development seriously. Has he ever talked with Joe Mirra, the EDC Chairman? Or any of the members of the Economic Development Commission?
Fact: Tim Ryan does have email, and Tim Ryan responds to every inquiry within one day. The three-month application process has to do with Planning & Zoning applications, not inquiries to the Economic Development department. Mr. Liu either does not know the difference between the two departments, which is concerning, or is attempting to convince people of Town Hall indifference using a blatantly false comparison.
“So, to understand why other towns in Connecticut whose populations are also shrinking are leaving us behind economically….” Mr. Liu, I am dying to know the facts that form the foundation of such a statement. Not Throw-It-Against-The-Wall-And-See-What-Sticks unsupported assertions, but actual statistics that will give this statement some validity. I did not find one single statistic, not one supporting figure, nothing to support such a statement.
On the other hand, here are two you probably have missed: In four of the past five years, over 50 new businesses have located in Wallingford – 48 in 2018 alone. Does that sound like economic malaise? Yes, businesses do move out, but few if any have moved out because of the business climate in Wallingford. And please don’t cite Bristol-Myers Squibb, Jared. You’ll look uninformed.
The other useful gauge of a town’s economic health is the mill rate. Distressed communities have to have higher mill rates because the tax base is not diversified, because there are insufficient commercial and industrial taxpayers contributing property taxes. Fact: Wallingford’s mill rate is 29.19. Cheshire: 33.22; Durham: 35.89. North Haven 31.18. Southington: 30.64.
As I have said in previous columns, I think it is great that Jared Liu is putting himself out there and challenging the incumbent. Government works best when officeholders are challenged and held to account for their actions. Wallingford is not perfect. No community is. And could it be improved? Of course.
But that challenge has to be substantive. It has to have a foundation in fact. Just throwing out insulting remarks such as “in towns that take economic development seriously” without having a clue as to what our full-time Economic Development Specialist does for the town is not worthy of the ink used to print such a statement. C’mon, Jared, give the voters some facts, some examples, some stats. Give us something to show us you’ve done your homework and are ready to lead this complex municipal organization called the Town of Wallingford.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.