This column will have two completely different subjects. The first is, yes, local politics, but is actually a subject I know something about (imagine that!). The second should lift your spirits, because it’s about a way we can all help our neighbors still being slammed by this interminable coronavirus lockdown we all have been living through.
Let’s talk Wallingford politics first. In this year of our world being in utter turmoil, even the Republican-majority Town Council overriding the veto of the town’s Republican mayor is page 3 news. Striving so hard for the pure symbolism of having a 0.00 increase in the Town of Wallingford budget may be nice short-term politics but is not good long-term financial management. In order to accomplish it, they cut expenditures that were needed, played a shell game with the Capital and Non-Recurring Fund, and set a very poor precedent with the annual payment from the Wallingford Electric Division to town government.
Above all else, any financial rating agency looks for stability and consistency in the way elected officials raise and spend the municipality’s money. For decades here in Wallingford, the entire WED payment in lieu of taxes has financed the entire Capital and Non-Recurring Fund. A predictable, consistent, transparent way to fund Cap and Non (as it’s apparently called by the more hip) by dedicating 100% of the Electric Division contribution has been the standard for decades. No political fiddling allowed.
Before that, when the Democratic party had the Town Council majority, there were numerous efforts to raise the Electric Division contribution to keep tax rates lower. A complete shell game, because most taxpayers are also electric rate payers. The money comes out of one pocket or the other. But the thinking was that it sure looks better if you can fool taxpayers into believing that you are holding the line on taxes when really all you’re doing is shifting it to electric bills.
Mayor Dickinson vetoed every attempt, and finally an ordinance was passed fixing the WED contribution to a strict percentage of electric sales. No more smoke and mirrors. Consistency that every voter could both understand and rely on.
But now some of that simplicity of financing is gone. In its place is a precedent that all future Councils can adopt: any and all of that WED contribution is fair game to manipulate the tax rate. Gone is the discipline of simply using one predictable funding source to finance one simple you-know-where-the-money-is-spent fund.
Okay, enough politics. Let’s move on to a more heartening subject; something we all can help with. The United Way of Meriden and Wallingford annually hold a Weeks of Action event. This year it is a two-week “Virtual Food Drive” to benefit three food pantries that are carrying the load to make sure everyone affected by the economic shutdown can feed themselves and their families. It started on June 23rd and runs for another ten days, until July 7th. Master’s Manna in Wallingford, New Opportunities of Greater Meriden and the Salvation Army in Meriden are the three organizations.
A “virtual” food drive can be described easily: It’s all done through the internet. You go on the United Way website (unitedwaymw.org), click on “OUR EVENTS.” You will see the orange button“23. JUN.” Click on that and you’ll be on the event page. Follow the simple instructions (even I could do this!)
The beauty of this virtual food drive is that it only requires a few minutes at your computer to donate. The prompts take you to the yougivegoods.com website page set up just for the food pantry you’ve chosen. You click on SHOP NOW and you pick out the foods you want to donate from a list that shows products that they carry. The United Way has checked out the prices and they are the same as we can get at any store. You make your choices, pay for the products you’ve chosen, and that’s it. The food products are shipped from a warehouse in Piscataway, N.J., direct to the food pantry. No muss, no fuss.
Yougivegoods.com was started in September of 2011 by a couple who wanted to donate food to Haiti, which, believe me, is a logistics nightmare. Since then they have become a large, highly-regarded operation that has been the backbone of over 600 food drives. To test the system, I donated last Thursday. No waiting in line to get into Walmart, no masks, no social distancing in checkout lines, no schlepping the stuff home and then to the food pantry. It’s so easy that it’s almost disconcerting, but the company has a great reputation with the three food pantries in this drive.
Please give it a try. If we truly are “All In This Together,” here’s a phenomenally easy way to give people in need of some help … and some hope.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.