By Stephen Knight
The Wallingford mayoral campaign is generating a lot of attention, and it should. Each candidate is working hard to convince you to vote for him. But it would appear that Riley O’Connell believes that the best way to secure your vote is to paint the Town of Wallingford as failing and its municipal government as inept.
Neither of those opinions hold one ounce of credibility. O’Connell is either woefully ignorant of the facts or is just plain throwing out nonsense to mislead the voters. Take your pick. Either way, it should be a concern to voters.
In order to support the above assertion, this column will carefully lay out four examples. First will be the allegations O’Connell has made, giving sources. Then I will lay out the facts.
1. From O’Connell’s campaign website: “We have the most affordable energy in the state, are in the perfect location between New Haven and Hartford with easy highway access, and have plenty of open spaces for businesses of all sizes to move into, and yet we have generally failed to attract business over the last decade as our grand list continues to shrink.” [my emphasis]
The facts: In 2013, the Net Grand List for the town was $4,250,582,165. In 2022, it was $4,617,631,719. This is a $367 million increase in ten years, or 9.23%.
And here are the names of just some of the businesses that have located here recently: Ferti Technologies (fertilizer), Hobson Motzer (precision metal stamping), Connecticut Lottery (headquarters), Radiall (electronics assembly), MRC Global (plumbing supply), Amazon (distribution center). Add to that the pending $72 million construction of the Proton Beam Therapy Center on Northrop Road, and the $70 million in expansion investment by BYK on South Cherry Street in the past ten years.
Oh, and by the way, per https://www.wallingfordct.gov/businesses/business-news/: 235 new businesses located in Wallingford between 2017 and 2021. And 52 so far this year alone.
2. From O’Connell’s campaign website: “Lastly, we cannot finish a discussion on economic development in Wallingford without addressing one of the biggest challenges to our economic future: our rapid population decline.”
The facts: Population 1970-35,714; 1980-37,274; 1990-40,822; 2000-43,026; 2010-45,135; 2020-44,396. Where, pray tell, is this rapid population decline? Answer: there isn’t one. Period.
3. From a CT Examiner interview [: https://ctexaminer.com/2023/10/04/wallingfords-democratic-mayoral-candidate-talks-term-limits-town-finances/]: “O’Connell pointed to the town’s $30 million Rainy Day Fund.”
The facts: $10 million is already encumbered, meaning it is slated to be used. $17 million is set aside to protect the Town of Wallingford’s Aa1 bond rating. Such an excellent bond rating enables us to borrow money for, say, a new Police Station, at very favorable rates, saving us a fortune in interest.
4. From O’Connell’s campaign website: “…with 2022 marking the 17th consecutive year of Mayor Dickinson proposing a tax increase. Based on the current median price of a house in Wallingford, this amounts to an average tax increase of over $1,500 per year over that period of time.” [my emphasis]
The facts: If what he is stating were true, then the property taxes on a median-valued house in Wallingford, Connecticut would have risen by $25,500 in the past 17 years. ($1,500 per year X 17 years = $25,500). And that, he claims, is just the increase in taxes.
This is just a crazy, total fabrication, written to alarm voters into believing that property taxes are through the roof here. In reality, as most everyone very well knows, our taxes in Wallingford are lower than every surrounding community.
These four over-the-top misleading statements coming from this candidate certainly speak to his utter lack of preparation to be the chief executive officer of the Town of Wallingford government. But they say much more than that.
Riley O’Connell is a neophyte, a beginner, to politics. Experience in politics tends to make a candidate more careful about what they say, knowing that glaring misstatements like the ones above make them look uninformed. This candidate has apparently decided that all one needs to do to win office in Wallingford is to throw whatever against the wall, and we voters are too busy, too indifferent and uninterested to question the veracity of anything he says.
He is wrong. We know our town. We know that our local economy is strong as evidenced by the growing grand list. We know the population is steady, as shown in the census data. We know that our town has a statewide reputation for reasonable taxes. We know that the value of our homes and properties are increasing because of that stability.
In Wallingford, we are looking for municipal leadership that tells it honestly and straight from the shoulder. We are accustomed to honesty from all our candidates, regardless of party affiliation.
It appears that, of all the many things O’Connell has not yet learned about Wallingford, politics here begins with telling the truth. He needs to learn that lesson – the hard way – on November 7th.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.