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Stonington - For years, it was a tradition at the annual budget hearing each spring.
When it came time for the public to speak, the moderators would always call on the man sitting along the center aisle, next to the microphone, to be the first speaker.
Vincent Faulise would rise, holding a budget proposal on which he had scribbled questions. Sometimes he would preface his comments by saying he had just gotten back in town and had not had much time to review the proposal.
But he would still urge the Board of Finance to cut the budget so there was no tax increase for residents. In good economic times and bad, he reminded town and schools officials that residents were struggling and they couldn't afford higher taxes.
One year, the tradition inspired former Westerly Sun reporter Jeff Mill to write the following: "As the swallows return to Capistrano each year, Vincent Faulise returned from Florida for the annual budget hearing."
Last Thursday, the 85-year-old Faulise, who had been absent from those budget meetings the past few years, died at The Westerly Hospital.
"He would go away for a while, but he would always be back for budget season. You could set your watch by it," recalled former First Selectman Donald Maranell on Wednesday. "Vinnie never saw a budget he liked. But his heart was always in the right place. His questions made you think, 'Do we really need to do this?'"
"Vinnie would question everything. He would look at a budget and say, 'There's too many zeros in it,'" laughed Maranell. "I got a kick out of him. As much as you disagreed with him, he was one of funniest guys around. He could really make you laugh."
He added that sometimes it was hard to tell if Faulise was serious.
"Sometimes there was this twinkle in his eye," he said.
And it wasn't just budget meetings that Faulise attended. He frequently was at Board of Selectmen's meetings, ready with questions and comments. He was a driving force behind the long and eventually successful effort to get Pawcatuck its own post office.
Maranell said that Faulise and his activism were "a great service to the community."
"His watchdog effect was good for all of us," he said.
While budget supporters would often criticize Faulise, he always remained a gentleman, never raising his voice or arguing with them.
He simply would go through the budget, point out where too much money was being spent, press officials to explain the expense and then sit down. "He was never mean about it," Maranell said.
Critics would sometimes attack him, saying he did not represent anyone else's point of view. But he would sometimes be vindicated on referendum day when residents rejected the budget.
And when the budget was eventually approved, Maranell said Faulise was never upset.
"He was OK with it. He had said his piece. He was all about being a gentleman," he said.
Faulise was a Pawcatuck native, carpenter and owner of rental properties in town. He served on the Board of Education for seven years in the 1960s. Faulise was a standout cross country runner at Stonington High School, where he led the school to two Eastern Connecticut Conference championships. He was an avid golfer and big sports fan.
Current First Selectman Ed Haberek said that Faulise not only asked a lot of good questions at selectmen's meetings but provided him with a lot of history on the budget process.
Attorney Ted Ladwig, who was the moderator for some of those budget hearings, said Faulise was always friendly and never made his budget comments personal.
"Vincent was very single-minded in trying to keep the tax rate as low as possible," he said.
Haberek said that flags at Town Hall have been lowered this week in honor of Faulise and former Water Pollution Control Authority Chairman Angelo Miceli, who also died last week as well.
Ladwig pointed out that in the past year, the town has lost not only Faulise and Miceli but also longtime first selectman Jim Spellman and Board of Finance member Andrew Rines.
"These guys were the backbone of Stonington politics and government for years," Ladwig said.