“People get involved with their commissions because they have an interest in their community,” said Wallingford native James Seichter, who is the chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission. “I just think there are members of the community that like to get involved with their community and look for ways to do that.”
He received his appointment to the commission roughly a decade ago, although he has also run for a seat on the Board of Education — and said he found losing discouraging.
Seichter’s dedication to public service began when, after graduating from Rider College (now University) in New Jersey, he travelled to the Philippines as a member of the Peace Corps.
There, he assisted what he described as relatively small banks in rural areas obtain discounted rates offered by the country’s Central Bank as part of an industrial credit program. According to Seichter, that financing went to small businesses in areas such as printing, handicrafts, grain elevators and also duck farms.
Back in the states — and back in Wallingford — Seichter continued to apply his skills to finance. He retired more than a year ago from his position as
director of special assets at UPS Capital Business Credit in Hartford, an arm of UPS Capital that provides financial services to businesses whose supply chains typically cross international borders. He continues to work part-time for Bennington Partners in Southbury, whose parent company is Texas-based Sheshunoff Consulting + Solutions.
“I think the economy has had a very notable impact on development,” said Seichter, speaking not only from his considerable business acumen but also from the number of applications Planning and Zoning now receives. This is a number that, he said, has decreased considerably in recent years. When he began serving on the Commission in the mid-90’s, he said the Commission had 30 to 35 meetings and/or workshops a year. Now, he said, the Commission meets 20 times a year.
“There hasn’t been a high level of activity in the last several years,” said Seichter, citing the general business climate. "Businesses are contracting."
He spoke of what he termed the “mess in Washington."
"Clearly, everyone can agree that we have a dysfunctional Congress," Seichter said. He said the fact that the two parties have found themselves unable to compromise on core issues has created economic uncertainty.
He also observed that the federal government never pays the debt down.
“We’re funding one third of the budget by borrowing. At some point, we turn to Greece. We’re relying on borrowing to fund one third of the budget. Year after year, that’s got to be very troubling.”
“People loose sight of how much we borrow,” he continued. “At some point in time, the cost of [borrowing] that money is going to increase.”
Said Seichter, only semi-wryly: “A trillion dollars isn’t what it used to be.”
Still, he admitted, “I don’t want to see taxes go up, but reality says we have to have more revenue.”
From his demonstrated interest in education, he noted that school systems in this country face pressures as they take on responsibilities that, historically, families used to bear. He thought of children who come from homes where they do not receive breakfast.
“Should schools provide breakfast?” he asked, rhetorically. “Someone has to do that.”
He also affirmed that, in contrast to other countries that do not mainstream students, this country has a public education system that attempts to bring everyone into it.
“It’s costly,” he said of the efforts that school systems make.
Yet amid all the economic uncertainty and challenges that continue to evolve, he noted that last year the town of Wallingford was able to pay down its debt. And he gives credit to Wallingford’s Economic Development Commission for aggressively pursuing industry, noting that their efforts have been repaid to good advantage in some of the town’s industrial parks.
And as for those businesses in the Philippines that received his help years ago, he said that, over time, he has lost touch with their owners. “I sure hope they are still in business,” he said.
This year, he said, he hopes to return to the Philippines and follow up.