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OPINION: What should Wallingford residents expect from local government?

OPINION: What should Wallingford residents expect from local government?

On November 5th, we Wallingford voters will elect a mayor, town councilors and Board of Education members. As these are the people in government that have the most impact on our daily lives, this column will be discussing 1) what we should expect our local government to provide us, 2) why our expectations must be tempered by the financial reality of municipal government resources, and 3) one candidate with whom I have worked who clearly understands both of these concepts.

Expectations: Obviously, our highest expectation is honesty and integrity of those elected, appointed and employed to provide the services we expect. That should go without saying, of course, and I for one am convinced that we have that here, cynical and ill-informed comments from certain candidates to the contrary.

Let’s start with Town Hall. Honest and transparent finances and careful oversight of all the ancillary work that any large organization requires: human resources, insurance, town clerk, tax collection, assessor, law and others. And adequate administrative oversight of the entire operation.

But what services should we expect? What should we get for our tax dollars? 

Numero uno: public safety, in all its forms. A police department that is intimately involved with the community, whose every employee dedicates each workday to keeping us safe. A fire department whose role has expanded from primarily firefighting to emergency health care throughout the town and sometimes beyond. Emergency Management coordinating all the various departments (Police, Fire, Health, Public Works, Public Utilities, etc.).

A public education system that is adequately funded, expertly led by its superintendent, with oversight provided by a dedicated and intelligent Board of Education. 

A Public Works Department that takes serious responsibility for the enormous amount of infrastructure that must be maintained; an organization that carefully prioritizes its work to ensure that its limited resources have the most benefit to the residents.

A Planning Department and ancillary offices that balance the need for farsighted land use planning and evenhanded enforcement of carefully developed regulation that directs the growth of the town with the need to allow for vibrant economic growth fueled by the aspirations of those private businesses and the needs of the residents.

Social service and human service assistance. Youth and Social Services, Parks and Recreation, Senior Center, and social service contributions are just some of the ways the town provides community assistance and community programs that bind us together.

Wallingford has all of these attributes.

Financial Limitations: Unfortunately, certain national and state politicians have led some voters to believe that government largess is unlimited. The size of our national debt and the financial condition of our state government are testament to that attitude that all wishes and wants must be fulfilled regardless of the financial consequences.

But those two entities have latitude to raise money that municipalities don’t. The Federal government sells bonds, prints money and expands the money supply. And the taxing power of the state appears to only be limited by politicians’ imaginations (i.e., the new “grocery” tax).

But towns and cities have no such authority. Wallingford revenue is limited to state grants (a vast percentage of which go to our desperate cities, not to towns like ours), permit and license fees, dribs and drabs from the federal government — and, most of all, personal and property taxes. The town government’s ability to grow services we all might like is severely proscribed by this limitation. Any officeholder who ignores this basic concept jeopardizes not only the town’s fiscal health but also its ability to adequately provide the basic services that must and should be provided.

One Candidate You Should Consider: Christina Tatta is a person I believe will make an excellent Town Councilor, who has the experience and knowledge required for the job. I know that firsthand. She served as the vice chair of the Charter Revision Commission that I chaired from April of 2016 until November of 2017. Our eleven-member commission went over every single word of this foundational document of Wallingford municipal government. We held fourteen workshops and three public hearings. Christina was thoroughly prepared for each meeting, very carefully kept our motions on track during discussions and added immeasurably to the quality of our final product. She was a delight to work with. She kept an open mind, carefully considered all sides of each issue, and politely articulated her final position.

Christina comes to the Wallingford Town Council having had the intense learning experience of the Charter Revision Commission’s work. In other words, unlike how I felt during my first term, she is ready on Day One to contribute her perspective and wisdom to this community’s legislature. She understands how our government is structured. She was instrumental in modernizing the document by which it is governed. No training wheels required. She is ready to lead.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.

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