By Jared Liu
The most common question I get when knocking on doors is, “What will you do to get taxes low?” I love this question for a couple reasons.
First, it recognizes that taxes in Wallingford are not low. Despite Town Hall’s spin, people know that our mill rate is about average, that the mayor raises taxes every year, and that our taxes are actually somewhat high compared to similar towns that offer greater services. Second, it underlies that all politics is local.
So let me tell you about my plan to get taxes low in three parts across the next three OpEds. The first part is: Things that cost nothing, save money, or are revenue positive in Year One.
These are the items we will start on immediately. This is also a timely place to start, because the mayor has just released his 2019-20 budget, requesting a 4.2 percent increase in spending.
At a time when our businesses are relocating to other towns in the state and 30 percent of commercial property is vacant, which is among the highest in Connecticut, we can ill afford to have a spending problem right here in Wallingford. So let’s begin with where I see financial missteps, siloed thinking, and, frankly, waste that is in the budget year after year.
Step 1. Things that cost nothing, save money, or are revenue positive and we’ll start on immediately:■ Consolidate non-core school functions into the town’s general budget to complete repairs to school buildings faster and cheaper. First, it reduces overhead and allows the town to more efficiently schedule jobs. Second, it shifts the expense from Education to General Operating, which would generate up to $700,000 in tax revenue by closing the loophole the town crafted for Ashlar Village to avoid paying their fair share in taxes.■ Invest pensions into passive, low-fee, index funds. Pension liabilities cost taxpayers millions more than they should, because Wallingford is so poorly invested that they miss the market average by 3-13 percent most years or 5 percent if annualized. They try to cherry-pick the dates to say otherwise and ignore that their investment advisor has steered them into high-fee funds that further cut into returns but, given the $190 million corpus, we could be saving an average of $10 million/year in liabilities… to say little of no longer paying $240,000 annually to the investment advisor.■ Adhere to a transparent policy about contract bids. Many public projects are awarded to the high bidder or without a bid process to preferred vendors who are overcharging us by millions. Here’s a small example, the town waived the bid process for downtown tree replacement to use the vendor they like. It cost $550/tree when it should have cost $20/tree. If we plant 100 trees/year, this is a difference of $265,000 over 5 years, and that’s just one initiative.■ Create online portals for residents to reserve athletic facilities and fields, buy pool passes, receive utilities statements, and use other services such as land records and deeds. I project this would generate $150,000/year more from pool usage, save over $125,000/year through online bill pay, and generate market rates for recreation facilities.■ Triple the amount of public money directed to Wallingford by hiring a full-time grant writer rather than paying up to $28,000 per grant to private writers, and utilizing grants correctly so we don’t return misappropriated funds. After two successful grants, the position would pay for itself.■ Factor state aid into budget projections. The “rainy day fund” continues to grow because the mayor doesn’t accurately forecast state aid, all the while taxing you for that supposed “shortfall.” Moreover, it’s questionable to blame the state for having a spending problem when our Town Council in the proposed budget gives themselves a raise while supporting a 4.2 percent increase in town spending.■ Jointly work with neighboring towns to purchase supplies in bulk for everything from toilet paper to asphalt and advocate to the state for a more balanced share of ticket revenue.
This is just what costs nothing, saves money, or is revenue positive in Year One. We can do more with less. Over the next two months, I will outline Step 2 to utilize these savings and revenues to invest in economic development, which is the key to our sustainability, and Step 3 to fund quality of life initiatives with new revenue generated from economic development but only if they’re financially self-sustaining. Along the way, I promise to hold down spending in lean times and only invest in robust times. This is about getting value for our money.
Jared Liu is a 2019 mayoral candidate in Wallingford. Full plans are available at at: www.jaredliu.com.