OPINION: Candidate Spotlight: For our future in Wallingford

By Riley O’Connell

My college honors thesis was focused on understanding the psychology of climate change denial. The goal was to explain why we, as a society, weren’t just failing to take proactive action to avoid disaster, rather we were actively struggling to accept that this existential threat even existed in the first place. We’re currently experiencing a similar kind of cognitive dissonance right here in Wallingford, and my goal is for this piece to serve as our collective wake-up call.

In the mayoral race between myself and Mayor Dickinson, the latter’s primary argument seems to be, “why fix what isn’t broken,” epitomized by his slogan “Shine On.” Unfortunately, nostalgia tinted glasses can be dangerously misleading, and I challenge you to find any metric by which we are performing better today than we were 15 years ago. In reality, the status quo Dickinson is claiming to preserve is already long gone.

To anyone who thinks Wallingford’s shine hasn’t dimmed, I refer you to the following statistic: our youth population has declined by a staggering 15% over just the last decade. There’s no need to speak in hypotheticals, we’ve already seen what such a decline leads to in other towns across the country; left unchecked, these are the early symptoms of a dying community. So how did we get here, and how do we reverse course?

A good place to start answering these questions is taxes. Despite a carefully crafted reputation as a financially responsible caretaker of the town’s finances, the mayor’s track record tells a different story. He has proposed tax increases every single year since 2005, something that can’t be said for any other town in our region. Our only saving grace is that he has failed to pass any budgets this term, thanks to bipartisan efforts from the Town Council to overrule the mayor’s proposed budgets, which would have resulted in higher taxes both times. We once boasted one of the lowest tax rates in CT, but today we don’t even come close to breaking the top 50 lowest. 

One of my top priorities is to freeze the tax rate, making it affordable to settle down in Wallingford once again, whether you are a senior citizen on a fixed income, a young adult starting your career, or a growing family buying your first house. Routinely overestimating expenditures and underestimating revenue to create an artificial surplus, used only to further pad an already bloated savings account, as has been the strategy for the last 38 years, is what has led to this textbook example of overtaxing. I’m merely proposing a balanced budget. 

Wallingford simultaneously needs to invest in critical infrastructure, a tremendous undertaking given the decades of deferred maintenance we’ve endured. This includes our schools, which have deteriorated from being ranked one of the best districts in the state to well below the state average. This includes Community Pool, the creation of which coincided with Wallingford’s golden age of economic growth in the 1950s/1960s, now nothing more than a dilapidated breeding ground for mosquitoes that will never again open its doors under this administration. It includes our roads, sidewalks, parks, and even Town Hall itself. There is so much work to be done, and the farther we kick the can down the road, the more these critical renovations are going to cost. 

When it comes to technological infrastructure, we’re no longer decades behind, we are entire generations behind. I don’t want to belabor this point because even the mayor’s most ardent defenders won’t choose to die on this hill, but it becomes a more important factor with each passing year. Most town employees lack the basic email/internet services needed to efficiently and effectively perform their jobs, there’s no direct deposit or online bill pay, and our online marketing presence is nothing short of embarrassing.

These common sense improvements will have to be accomplished gradually, spread out over the better part of a decade and making use of federal and state funds to prevent spending beyond our means, but it can be done. It has to be done.

Don’t get me wrong, Wallingford is a fantastic community in spite of these issues, but our town has been trending in the wrong direction for far too long. It’s time we had proactive leadership as opposed to reactive. Do you want a Wallingford that feels trapped in the diminishing shadow of its former glory, in continuous freefall under the reign of the “good ol’ boys club,” or do you want a Wallingford that actually looks to the future and aspires to greatness, with a restored sense of integrity and ambition? 

In no uncertain terms, this election is a referendum on our future. Vote accordingly on Nov. 2nd.

Democrat Riley O’Connell is seeking election as Wallingford mayor.

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