Town Council Highlights
Developed budget proposal and secured support from Mayor and Town Council to keep Community Pool open through Labor Day
Our boys love Community Pool, and we’re there often during the summer. Historically, the pool closes for the season on the second Sunday in August. I’ve always wished that it would stay open for the duration of August, and into Labor Day weekend. These are often the hottest days of the summer, and most families are back from vacation.
In April, during our budget deliberations, I developed a proposal to fund an extended season for the pool. The Mayor was receptive and we agreed to include a slight ($5) raise in the pool tag prices to help offset the cost. At the May 9th Council meeting, I formally presented and motioned this proposal, and it passed unanimously.
Ultimately, the extended season was a success and has generated even more interest in the pool, as evidenced by the increase in pool tag sales.
Worked with Police to establish safe zone for online transactions
The Second Time Around Wallingford Facebook page is a great forum for buying and selling all sorts of things, from used toys, clothes to furniture. Similar forums exist in communities across the state. Several residents (including my wife!) told me that they wished there was a designated, police monitored place for people to meet and make exchanges. I brought this issue to Chief Wright, and based on a similar arrangement in West Hartford, the Chief designated the parking lot of the Police Station as a “safe zone” for online exchanges.
“Chris Shortell…was the only Councilor with a fairly concrete plan for a zero mill rate increase.” –Citizen Mike Show, May 25, 2016
This video clip is from the end of the 2016 budget season. I’m including it because it illustrates the type of Councilor I’ve been – willing to compromise and also willing to take on “sacred cow” items like the BOE budget or the General Fund surplus.
Here’s the context: The Mayor, by Charter, must release his formal budget by April 1. The Council has until the second Tuesday of May to adopt a budget. We can adopt the Mayor’s budget, or we can amend it. The only caveat is that if we fail to pass any budget, then the budget the Mayor proposed initially on 4/1 goes into effect by law.
In 2016, there was additional uncertainty with State funding. As such, the Mayor wrote the Council a memo after his April 1 budget submission. In this memo, he suggested an additional $1M in reductions to the proposed budget increases–$500K on the General Government side, $500K on the BOE. These were not “cuts,” they were reductions to the proposed increase (meaning that even if we enacted them, those areas would still get more money than they had the prior year–just not as much as originally proposed).
At the same time, several Councilors proposed using the previous year’s surplus to offset the proposed tax increase. There was much debate on this, from all sides. I said I could support the zero mill rate increase, but only if they took into account the Mayor’s proposed reductions. A combination of spending reductions and the surplus could have gotten us to a zero mill rate increase. But, nobody seemed in favor of that.
I believe the reason is that some were fearful of touching any BOE funds (even though the BOE is generously funded and typically runs huge surpluses in excess of $500k-$700k annually), while others view the General Fund balance in a similar “untouchable” manner.
Supported fiscally responsible budgets that maintained public safety and education
As noted above, Wallingford has a very generously funded school system (over $100 million dollars annually, not counting several million more in capital expenditures that have been bonded). We’ve also had an increased focus on public safety in recent years, adding four new police offers in the last two budget cycles. No budget is perfect, but I’m proud of how Wallingford continues to maintain services and keep taxes low. The Comptroller told me during the last budget cycle that approximately $20 million in funding for town services comes from a combination of Federal and State funding and grants. Any and all of that $20 million could disappear, and we’d be left with the option of eliminating the service, or raising taxes to pay for it. This is a sobering reminder of the economic realities we face.
Ethics and FOI training for Boards and Commissions
As Councilors, it’s important for us to keep an open mind and always listen. It was in this spirit that I proposed an Ordinance to require Ethics and Freedom of Information (FOI) training for members of Boards and Commissions. The idea was not mine–it came from a resident during the public comment at one of our Ordinance Committee meetings–but I thought it was a worthy idea and was happy to sponsor it.
Ultimately, we want to have everyone who participates in local Town Government be informed and educated on issues like what constitutes a conflict of interest, when should someone recuse him or herself, and how we ensure complete transparency for the public. The Ordinance that passed in March 2019 (No. 627) is not perfect, but it’s a first step toward that goal.