Thursday, February 28, 2013

No fireworks in Wallingford budget — again

As published in the Record Journal on Thursday February 28, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD - Citing another difficult budget year and financial uncertainty, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. has opted not to include funding for the town’s annual July fireworks display in his proposed budget.

The town stopped including the fireworks show in the general government budget in 2009.

“The reason is because we have had very difficult budgets,” said Dickinson. With expenses increasing, he said he’d find it hard to explain “why we aren’t cutting things that are non-essential.”

“I have a hard time seeing fireworks as an essential,” he said.

Town Councilor Jason Zandri and a small group of supporters have kept the show alive since 2009 by raising funds on their own. While the general government budget has not been released,Dickinson informed Zandri during a phone call on Monday that the fireworks display would not be funded, Zandri said.

The show dates back to before the 1970s, Zandri said, and has become a tradition in town.

“Tradition gets lost over time,” Zandri said. “As soon as you stop a tradition, you lose it forever.”

Zandri, a Democrat, is challenging the longtime Republican mayor in this November’s election.

While Dickinson argues that budget issues are to blame for the lack of funding, Zandri says there is money available. He said the town is running a $1.7 million surplus and can afford the $26,656 needed for the fireworks.

Dickinson said that expenses need to be reduced and there are too many unknowns going into the spring, when the town’s budget will be put together. “I can’t be sure what’s going to happen this year,” he said. The town has reduced staff, so there is no justification in funding a non-essential event, Dickinson said.

Zandri said the mayor has also chosen not to fund municipal services for the event, which would include police, fire and public works overtime. The cost would be approximately $13,000, Zandri said.

Taking just 1 percent interest from the town’s $1.7 million surplus would generate $17,000, Zandri said, enough to fund municipal services for the event and more.

“The bottom line is the mayor simply doesn’t want this,” Zandri said.

Zandri has set a minimum fundraising goal of $30,000. The deadline to get that private funding to the town is May 31, he said, to allow time for scheduling and booking.

If funding is secured in time, the fireworks show will be held on July 6. Zandri said there is no rain date.

“You can’t justify a reason for not having this event,” Zandri said.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mayor Dickinson formally closes the door on a municipally sponsored 2013 Wallingford Independence Day celebration

Today was the call from Mayor Dickinson regarding the fate of the fireworks for 2013.

As he has done since 2009, he has not budgeted funding for the event.

In 2009 the Town Council restored the funding for the show from surplus funds from that year. Funding was cut again in 2010 and that was the year no action was taken to move funds from elsewhere.

I do not expect enough support from the current sitting Council to make funds available as was the practice since 2010 with pretty much the same Council makeup.

Despite having a $1.7 million dollar surplus, the Mayor has indicated that $26,656.00 is unavailable to support the show.

I followed up with the secondary ask that Wallingford cover the municipal services for the event (police, fire, and public works overtime) to the tune of approximately $13,000.00 and he maintained that zero funding was available.

The Town of Wallingford has $12 million plus dollars of cash balance just sitting in “the bank” earning menial interest (but interest just the same).

Let’s forget those funds for this discussion.

One percent interest on JUST the surplus funds from last year (one million, seven hundred thousand dollars) would generate $17,000.00 in new cash totally unencumbered.

That would be enough for the police, fire, and public works overtime for the Independence Day celebration AND also pay for public works overtime for the Veterans’ use of the ShowMobile on Memorial Day.

The money is there. The Mayor has simply chosen this to be eliminated from the budget for the fifth year running.

The additional tax burden to the Wallingford budget of $26,656.00 more to be raised, based on the taxes of a median priced home in Wallingford, would be an additional $1.30 (approximately, based on 2012 numbers).

For just half that amount – the amount of just the town services at $13,000.00 – you would be talking about $0.65 (sixty five cents) in additional taxes.

The people of Wallingford and Wallingford businesses have shown for three years running that this event should be held by their resolve to keep the event funded privately through fundraising.

I am confident that if they still have the same resolve as I do that this will be year four.

Another part of the discussion with the Mayor centered on the added costs to the pension plans because overtime calculates into those figures. As I explained to the Mayor, if that is an argument point, it is moot; by The Fund making the donation to the town and Wallingford hosting the event, that overtime still calculates into the pension.

2013 will be no different.

So we begin with a minimum goal of $30,000.00. Our operating costs are generally very low (printing, mailing, postage, etc.) runs us about $3,000.00 a year so with the show event cost of $26,656.00 we have our 2013 target.

If we should be fortunate enough to raise $36,000.00 we would also be able to restore the R Band to the performance; The Fund has not been able to achieve this to date.

(The R Band was present in 2012 due to $5,000.00 being made available from a funding reduction from the Parks and Recreation budget, something I do not expect to see repeated this year.)

The deadline to have the funds in to the Mayor is the same as it is each year – the last Friday in May (this year the 31st).

The show, if all the funds are collected and weather permitting, is to be held on Saturday July 6th.

There is no rain date – if the show is called on account of the weather it is cancelled.

So the countdown clock starts – T MINUS 95 days and counting.

Let’s roll Wallingford.