WALLINGFORD — With a nod toward longtime Republican Mayor William Dickinson Jr., Mayor-elect Vincent Cervoni promised to forge his own path with new ideas, initiatives and a focus on strengthening public safety with a state-of-the-art police headquarters, fiscal stability and business growth.
Cervoni, a Republican, defeated Democrat Riley O’Connell in the November general election and will be sworn in as mayor on Jan. 8.
The 55-year-old, who has a law practice in town, praised Dickinson as a “strong fiscal steward of the town.” Cervoni also said Dickinson, who has been mayor for the past 40 years, was a mentor whose advice he would seek over the next two years.
Cervoni is currently the town’s deputy mayor and has served on the Town Council for 14 years, including the last 10 as chair, and served two separate stints as a Zoning Board of Appeals member.
On Dec. 1, Cervoni told CT Examiner that a top priority would be working on major technology upgrades, which has been a pain point in town for years.
“I’m going to look at the town’s infrastructure, town buildings, roads and parks,” Cervoni said, noting it’s an area that has been neglected in the past.
Cervoni said he’d create a director of information technology position, since the town of 45,000 people currently relies on the information technology director within the Public Utilities Division. Cervoni said he wanted to increase the use of information technology in Town Hall as well.
“I want to explore every opportunity to find greater efficiencies through the use of technology; more digital communication and less paper,” said Cervoni, who noted that “the town still uses time cards, for example. For employees, that makes the payroll process cumbersome, so we are going to a digital payroll system as soon as we possibly can.”
Paper “takes up a lot of space,” he said. “It’s inefficient and there are certain processes where you really do not need to print and create paper unless there is a Freedom of Information Act request. There are several departments that are relying heavily on paper and that’s bad because it’s not productive and time consuming.”
Cervoni said it’s too soon to say what the costs of a total technology upgrade at Town Hall would be.
“Nothing’s free,” he said. “I’m going to get somebody in to help me figure out how to increase the amount of hardware and software we need and figure out what the cost is, and where I can find it in the budget.”
Cervoni said the job of mayor is full time and that he’d be limiting his law practice work to just estate planning and small business consulting.
Cervoni said his message for town department heads is “keep all the balls rolling that we have going. We are, though, going to talk about new and innovative ways for them to accomplish their department goals.”
As mayor, he wants to be “a little more aggressive” than his mentor Dickinson when it comes to the town’s infrastructure,
Other than the Town Hall building, which Cervoni said is in desperate need of a new roof, he did not single out buildings or parks for repair.
“We are going to go through all the buildings and parks to see what needs work that absolutely needs to be done. I think everything could be a little shinier,” he said, adding that he’d call for a review of all the town’s infrastructure within his first 90 days in office.
Cervoni has repeatedly called Dickinson fiscally responsible, but during the campaign, O’Connell noted that taxes increased in 17 of the last 18 years. It was an issue Cervoni’s Democratic challenger brought up often, saying the deputy mayor was partly to blame.
Cervoni said O’Connell did not understand the budget process, and that it “would just not be honest” to promise there will be no tax increases.
Cervoni said tax hikes have been inevitable due, in large part, to collective bargaining and raises for town workers.
“There is a significant majority of the town employees involved in collective bargaining, and the majority of those contracts over the past two decades have involved wage increases, and wage increases require you to increase taxes,” Cervoni said. “The biggest expense in town government is personnel.”
Cervoni said the biggest thing he learned from Dickinson, who he has known since the 1990s, “is fiscal responsibility. He was guided by strong principles.” Cervoni said every budget process under Dickinson was fair and honest and “there were no gimmicks.”
Cervoni also said he plans to speak with Police Chief John Ventura about staffing and other needs; the department has about 65 officers. Asked how many officers he’d like to see on the force, Cervoni said, “I want to see a number that is appropriate for the population of the town. That is a conversation I need to have with Mr. Ventura.”
The biggest need, by far, for local police is a new headquarters, Cervoni said.
The current police headquarters building, located near the town center, was built about 120 years ago and the department moved there in the 1980s.
“They outgrew it about 15 years ago, but they are still there,” Cervoni said. Among other things, he said, the women’s locker room is inadequate for the number of women on staff “and is a quarter of the size it should be,” he said.
A new state-of-the-art police facility is expected to be ready for occupancy by fall 2024, Cervoni said. It will be located in the north central part of town and will cost between $30 million and $35 million, which Cervoni said will be paid primarily by bonding.
Cervoni said he also plans to address Wallingford’s legislative delegation, which is split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans, about juvenile crime and changing laws related to juveniles.
“There is virtually no consequence,” Cervoni said regarding juveniles who are often back on the streets following their arrest. “A juvenile has to commit a felony that involves a firearm for that person to face incarceration. It’s like going through a metal detector; once we get the metal off of you, you are out.”
When it comes to opening and promoting new businesses, Cervoni said he wants social media to play a larger role. He noted the town government currently does not have a Facebook page but that “we will have one within 90 days of me taking office.”
He said he’d highlight town businesses on that page and on Instagram.
“I’d want to highlight businesses that represent the history and fabric of the town,” he said.
Cervoni said he’ll continue to work closely with the town’s Economic Development Commission and economic development specialist to entice businesses to move to Wallingford and help those currently here.
That could look like a series of tax incentives to new businesses and retention credits, he said.
Another big issue in town, Cervoni said, remains whether to consolidate the two high schools. The projected cost to do so could be upward of $130 million.
Cervoni was noncommittal on whether he supports the consolidation, saying there are good arguments on both sides. Eventually, he said, “it’s really an educational decision for the Board of Education.”
Even after being elected mayor, Cervoni said he plans to continue honing his musical skills. Cervoni, who has lived in town for 29 years, is a member of two bands and performs on stage and in area community theaters.
“I’ve been in bands throughout the past 30 years,” said Cervoni. “I’ve always had a blues band that plays cover music and music that I wrote.”